My “Not-to-Do” List

Note: This article first appeared in HomeLife magazine back in the mid-nineties. Revised, it has been posted by special request. Hope you enjoy it as well!

I haven’t always been a list person. But when I married my sweet, wonderful, list-making husband, I never stood a chance. It wasn’t long after our wedding day until he realized what a disorganized waif he had married and decided to take on the personal challenge of making me a paragon of structure. For years he modeled list making around the house. With the changing of the seasons came a new list of things to be done – clean out gutters, wash outside windows, straighten garage, paint the mailbox. Proudly posted on the front of the refrigerator, it was a constant reminder.

I remember being awestruck when I first saw the lists he made at work. His calendar pages, filled to the edges with daily tasks were unbelievable! Inspired, I began to make my own lists: Groceries. Dinner guests. Books I needed to complete a collection. Packing for a week in South America. Things to do today.

Before I knew it, I was hooked and cranking out daily “to-do” lists with the best of em’!

It wasn’t long before my “to-do” list took on a life of it’s own. After a while, I learned to skip spaces so I could insert new things to do when the phone rang unexpectedly. I was, quite simply, obsessed with it.

Suddenly it seemed I could never finish the day’s assignments. My inability to say no, coupled with my tendency to be an overachiever, soon had me feeling like the depths of need that surrounded me were inhaling me in and spitting me out. Though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I knew something was wrong.

Finally I realized it was that darned “to-do” list! Overcrowded with responsibilities, endless meetings, and family obligations, my to-do list was dictating a schedule that left me frustrated and fatigued. Worse than that, I realized all that busyness was keeping me from the truly essential responsibilities God had given me as a Christian wife and mother.

Of course when I really thought about it I realized that the problem wasn’t in making the lists. Rather, it was not being selective about what I put on them. I knew I needed to pare down my to-do lists and make time for what was really important in my life. As I reflected on my predicament, I grabbed a pen and did what came naturally – I made another list. However, this one was different; it was my “not-to-do” list.

1. I will not allow anything to come between God and me.                     I learned a long time ago that the secret of being a powerful, victorious Christian is spending time alone with the Father each day. But admittedly, my life had become so busy I didn’t have time to nurture a personal, intimate relationship with God that was healthy and growing. I needed to revel in his quiet presence, study his word, and spend more time in prayer.

2. I will not allow busy, meaningless activities to take precedence over my family.
Like most Americans, I am extraordinarily adept at adding things to my “to-do” list. In fact, I was giving so much of my time away to insignificant distractions that my husband and daughter suffered the loss of my attention. Plus, after a full day of meaningless activities, there wasn’t a lot of energy left for being a fun mom and sexy marriage partner. Being a better wife and mother meant I would have to set priorities so I could spend more time with my family.

3. I will not neglect my personal needs and desires.
Somewhere along my journey of life, I erroneously understood that being totally selfless was a virtue. It’s not. I’ve since realized that we can’t possibly be our best for God and others if we continually neglect our personal needs and desires. The scriptures teach us that God created us uniquely. They also instruct that if we delight ourselves in him, he will give us the desires of our heart. When we seek our happiness in his perfect being, the desires of our hearts are proper and in perspective because they come from him. I’m a better person when I’m looking at life through his viewpoint; my personal needs are met, my heart’s desires are granted, and I find great fulfillment in the simple things in life; a morning walk, a long soak in the tub and my favorite activity, doing the Sunday crossword puzzle stretched out in front of the fireplace.

4. I will not say yes every time I’m asked to do something at church.
Even though I knew better, I somehow found myself so involved in church activities that I was actually spending more time at church than at home with my family. Of course, I was serving as a minister of education and administration at a large church, but I knew that was no excuse. I already knew that the best volunteers were those whom God had called to a specific task. They invested their time into their called ministry and it flourished. Other workers who took on multiple tasks usually ended up not doing any of them well and quitting before the year was over. My freedom finally came when I realized that God didn’t intend me to do everything – only what he asked me to do. It was time for me to listen more closely to what God was asking me to do.

Changes in my life didn’t happen overnight and I’m still notorious for making lists. (I’ll even admit here the sheer satisfaction I find in marking off a task on my list that has just been completed.) But, with determination and discipline I am able to set priorities that allow more time for the really important things in my life.

These days I’m relying on God to help me use my time wisely and keep up a more self-controlled lifestyle. I’ve learned to do less better and invest more time in the things that really matter – my Lord, my wonderful husband and daughter. My church, work, and personal ministry are still high priorities, but I’ve learned not to let them take over my life or steal from my time alone with God. The best part of all this is the wonderful sense of destiny that has returned to my life. There’s no more getting numbly from one day to the next. Life has passion again.

My “not-to-do” list helps me be happier and keep a great attitude and fresh perspective. It has also helped me simplify life. Now, before I add anything to my “to-do” list, I think twice and remember my “not-to-do” list!

Elizabeth Eliot once said, “A simple and orderly life represents a clean and orderly mind. Muddled thinking inevitably results in muddled living.” If you’re feeling frantic, frustrated, harried and hassled, perhaps it’s time you sat down and made your “not-to-do” list.

Now, I’ve got the clutter out of my life – if only I could just get it out of the garage!

For Further Thought: Stop and Smell the Coffee
T.S. Eliot once reflected that he had measured out his life in coffee spoons. Do you ever feel the fragmentation he was talking about? You give a little here and a little there, until suddenly it seems there’s nothing left. Write your own “not-to-do” list. Then, take a serious look at how you use your time by keeping an hourly account of how you spend your days for one week. After marking off the “not-to-do” items, you may just decide to not only stop and smell the coffee, but sit down and have a cup or two!

© 2012 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Caught in the Middle

I have a dear friend who is experiencing a lot of change in her life. She is handling things well, but soon she’ll have to make some big life-changing decisions. What I’m wondering is if she’ll truly trust God and follow the path of change he’s opening before her very eyes, or will she dig in her heels and refuse to move forward in his will for her life.

Not that change is always drastic, but in this case it will be.

It will mean leaving behind all things and all people customary and comfortable and having the courage to step ahead into an unknown and unfamiliar scenario. It will mean letting go of her current situation and hoping and praying that things will get better and she can stay. Most of all it will mean forgetting the past and forging ahead to the future.

And, that takes courage.

It also takes focus because sometimes we hold on so tightly to our current situations or things in the past, we can’t move freely into the future. We get caught in the middle and waste a lot of time looking backwards when we should be looking forward. In fact, we often get so caught up in the past we don’t realize that change brings an opportunity for a fresh start and the chance to be a part of something new and different.

It won’t happen overnight, but eventually her change will become real and exciting. That’s because when God is the author of change, we can count on adventure – and who doesn’t love an adventure!

The truth is life’s too short to fight change.

Accept it.

Embrace it.

Most importantly, trust God with it.
We don’t have to cling to the comfort of the familiar if we trust that he’s in control. More importantly, we can leave it to him to make sense of it all.

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.                 Philippians 4:12-13 (Msg)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

A Woman of Influence

I recently spent time with a lovely friend who lives in another state. Our husbands work for the same organization so I am blessed to see her from time to time.

She is one of those sweet gentle people who is so lovely I cannot even imagine the word “crap” coming from her soft-spoken mouth, much less anything worse. She has an unusual southern name that not only matches the loveliness of her nature, it frames the natural beauty that radiates from her face. And the thing that makes all this bearable and allows her to be so lovable is the fact that it is all very genuine. She is 100% real.

It’s funny, but being around her reminds me of cooking a Holiday turkey. You know what I’m talking about — you smell the loveliness and yearn for the moment when it is placed on the table before you. The tantalizing smell makes your mouth water as you anticipate how delicious and wonderful it is going to be to savor the first bite. You see it and you smell it. And you can hardly stand to wait for the feast to begin because you KNOW how good it is going to be.

That’s how it is with my friend. She is like the sweetness and aroma of heaven and it makes me want it bad because it is real and pure; a simply lovely desire. I don’t say this lightly because i am not the sort of person generally drawn to that sort of thing. I like gritty and authentic. I like telling it like it is and yes I’ve been know to say exactly what I’m feeling without thinking about the outcome. But if I’m brutally honest, I must confess to myself that I want to be like her.

Perhaps it is because I am honest and transparent and sometimes hate being what I am that I’m so drawn to her. I think it must be because she is what i know Jesus is like and because I love Jesus and want to be more like him than anything else in this world. One thing is for sure: the world doesn’t need another crotchety Christian who skirts holiness with the excuse of authenticity.

So I acknowledge she makes me want to be a better person.

She is the soft side of who I want to be. The good found in the middle of bad, the place that calls me to ascribe to being a better person everyday; to being the sweetness and aroma of all that is good and holy in this rough and gritty world.

Being around my friend brings me to my knees. I feel unacceptable. And as weird as it sounds, that’s a good thing because I too easily become complacent and that can be a problem, not only in my life but I suspect in yours as well. We become lazy and hate words like ‘mandate’ because we don’t have the holiness it takes to get the job done. We lose sight. We don’t have the courage and constitution it takes to be like Jesus.

But because of my friend, I know that it is possible. Because she is a constant reminder of all that is lovely and good and holy – all the things we should strive to be when we step out of bed in the morning.

I am not sure anyone ever uses the word “sweet” to describe me but one thing I know is true. I must surround myself with God’s people. I’m talking about the ones I want to emulate. Because if I’m ever going to be more like Jesus, I’ve got to spend time around people who shape me in his image.

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Enjoy chapter 29 of Life’s Too Short to Miss the Big Picture (For Women) The Smell of Cheap Perfume

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I once knew a girl from Switzerland named Olivia. Tall and lanky, she was vivacious and outgoing—a beautiful girl who dipped sugar cubes into strong Spanish espresso and popped them between her lips, all the while smiling like she had invented a new way to drink coffee. Of course, Olivia did everything differently and was proud of it. She often entertained us with her latest escapades in broken English while we sat in the little coffee shop just off the Gran Via in Madrid.

The first day I met Olivia at the language school where we were both learning Castellan Spanish, she was wearing a bright green sweater with one of those alligator icons that were so popular in the early eighties. When I saw her the next day, she was wearing it again. In fact, when I said good-bye to Olivia six months later, she was still wearing that blasted green sweater.

Let me explain.

After thirty days or so, the sweater began to smell. “Surely she’ll buy another sweater,” I told myself. “After all, her father is an ambassador, for crying out loud—she can afford it!” But she didn’t, and after the second month, I could smell her in the classroom even though I sat two full rows over.

When month three rolled around, I started avoiding Olivia. She was a sweet girl, but let’s face it—she stunk to high heaven. Like a lot of Europeans, her bathing was sporadic, and when you added that malodorous green sweater to the mix. . . . Well, you understand why I went in the opposite direction when I saw her coming. When I couldn’t gracefully evade her, I’d stop breathing through my nose and try taking in air through my mouth while we conversed. Then, as soon as I could, I’d make a quick getaway.

My luck ran out when a new term started during month four. Not only did Olivia’s sweater get more difficult to bear, but I was assigned the seat next to hers in the afternoon language lab we attended every day. Olivia would put on a headset and prop herself up against the little partition that separated our learning areas, and I’d spend the next hour breathing the pungent air that wafted my way. Conjugating Spanish verbs was never easy, but suddenly it got harder.

Around month five, I’m guessing Olivia became aware of the problem because she started dousing herself and the green sweater with a fairly cheap perfume that you could pick up in any store in Madrid. Now the odorous breezes were rounded out with a bouquet of roses and jasmine. But no matter how much cheap perfume she sprayed on, the smell was never covered. It bled through like a magic marker on porous paper.

During month six, we graduated the term, and I said good-bye to Olivia and her green sweater. I’ll be honest—my nose was glad to see her go.

The other day, Terry and I were talking about our experiences of living in Spain. I laughed out loud when I recalled that green sweater. But later, in my quiet time with God, an arrow of truth pierced my heart so violently, I felt ashamed.

God reminded me of the times I refused to take off the green sweater of my old life. When it started getting stinky, I just doused myself in cheap grace. You know, the kind that ignores the fact that Christ went to the cross and why he went and what really happened there. The same cheap grace that downplays the need for regret, remorse, and life-change and then has the nerve to loudly complain that life as a Christian should be easier and require less commitment on my part.
Yeah, that’s the cheap grace I’m talking about. When things started getting stinkier, I’d just dab a little more cheap grace behind the ears and march boldly into God’s holy sanctuary, where my reeking assumptions cheapened the very sacrifices Jesus laid on the altar for me.

“How do you stand me, Lord?” I cried. “How can you stand to be around me?”

Several years ago, Scott Chapman coined the phrase “practical atheism.” He defines it as believing that God exists while behaving as if he does not. In other words, it’s a faith that’s so far removed from a person’s everyday life that it makes no real, practical difference in the way he or she lives.

I think practical atheists wear green sweaters and cheap grace.

No matter how much I said I believed and doused myself in cheap grace, it didn’t begin to cover the stench of what I wouldn’t let go. I don’t want to wear this cheap grace anymore. I can’t stand the smell of myself.

I’ve been reading a book my friend Jon Walker wrote called Costly Grace. The book affirms the truth I have known for a long time in my heart. Costly grace is pricey—it costs us everything we have, but it’s worth it. Costly grace compels us to take off our stinky green sweaters and bathe ourselves in the forgiveness that makes us clean and sweet-smelling. It requires obedience that results in a change of habits and thoughts, a new outlook, and even a change to the way we “do” relationships.
Real grace brings transformation to our lives. And there’s no need for cheap perfume when we’re taking a bath in that.

Life Note: Living out real grace isn’t easy, but life’s too short to settle for cheap grace. Every time we put it on, we lower the standard of the Gospel. If we give up our lives to Christ, he gives real life back. There’s no need for cheap grace because the stinky old life doesn’t exist anymore. When Christ lives in us, we really do change.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Gal. 2:20–21 NLT)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Hot Off The Press!

Hot Off The Press!

When I posted this photo on Twitter, my friend, Philip Nation tweeted back congratulations, saying: “Nothing like seeing a book with your name on the cover. Very excited for you.”  He’s right. When I ripped open the box and lifted out the first copy (promised to my encouraging friend Carol Ann Williams), it was like coming full circle. A lot has happened in the last 11 months! Yes, there’s a sense of accomplishment but more than anything I’m still amazed and humbled that I got the opportunity to write this book. A special thanks to my friends at Leafwood Publishers/ACU Press for the privilege.

Chet’s Quik Stop

I was already running late when I exited the interstate to continue my journey down the winding country road. I was on my way to spend the weekend teaching on servant leadership at a retreat center, and the last strong rays of sunshine shimmered through the trees, temporarily blinding me as they rushed to finish their work before stealing away and turning the sky to blue velvet dusk. The falling leaves reminded me that summer was long gone and wouldn’t be back for a while.
In my rush to get out of Nashville and miss the afternoon traffic, I’d decided to gas up somewhere down the road. Now, glancing at the gas gauge, I realized I’d be running on fumes if I didn’t stop soon.
Around the bend was Chet’s Quik Stop. I turned in and pulled up to the gas pumps, reading the handmade signs taped to them. “Come inside if you need a receipt,” it said. “No problem,” I thought, as I pulled up to the regular pump. “I don’t need a receipt, just gas.” But after trying to swipe my credit card twice, I realized there was more than a receipt problem. I’d actually have to go inside and pay. With precious minutes ticking away, I sighed with annoyance, grabbed my purse, and headed into the dilapidated mini-mart that also moonlighted as a restaurant.
As I made my way around the small lime green car parked directly in front of the door, the odor of old grease hit me. It hung so densely in the air, I knew I would come out smelling like the hot wings and pizza Chet advertised on the tired old sign out front.
I got in line at the checkout counter behind an enormous woman purchasing several bottles of Mountain Dew. Her head had been recently shaved, and her ill-fitting clothes were sloppy and smelly. Pulling out handfuls of change from her pockets, she clumsily counted out the nickels and dimes with her fat, puffy fingers while attempting to engage the disinterested clerk in conversation. Her stab at witty small talk made me cringe. Full of improper grammar and word usage, her loud, unruly words—like her person—were coarse, repulsive, and offensive.
It was obvious she wasn’t in a hurry. “Come on, people,” I thought to myself. “I’ve got places to go and people to see.” Folding my arms tightly, it was all I could do to keep from heaving a sigh out loud. I tapped my foot; frustrated with the turn my day had taken. I tried to think happy thoughts, but when my eyes landed on the three large rolls of fat where her neck should have been, I became mesmerized by a huge boil at the base of her skull. Even though her hair had started growing back, it wasn’t long enough to cover the festering sore nestled between the giant folds of fat.
Oblivious of my presence, she finally finished paying and—in one sweeping motion—picked up her plastic bags, turned her massive body, and headed straight for the door all the while spouting a string of curse words rude enough to make a sailor blush. Had I not been quick in stepping back, she would have plowed me down. As it was, she met my gaze. I felt her thick contempt for me, the city slicker, as she glanced down at my leather boots and well-planned outfit. The sneer on her face dared me to speak.
In that moment, I knew I had two choices on how I could react to the hate pouring from her eyes.
I could play her game and reply with a cold, disdainful look that said, “What a bothersome creature you are. Please get your obese, mouthy self out of my way.”
Or, I could be like Jesus.
In an instant, I knew there was no choice.
Compelled by a sense of overwhelming kindness, I returned her candid stare. Love that could only come from God coursed through me; in that moment, I was able to reach out my hand, touch her arm, and say, “I’m so sorry. Please excuse me.” Then I gave her a big, sweet smile. Not just any smile. I’m talking about the ones I usually reserve for new babies or special friends.
And I meant it.
We stared at each other for at least ten seconds. Then, lumbering around me, sneer intact, she pushed through the door.
When I came back out, she was still sitting in the little lime green car in front of the door. She was fidgeting with two small American flags—like the ones you wave at parades—that were pushed in the dashboard vase, and I got the feeling she was waiting for me to come out. I was right.
I looked at her, and her fleshy face broke into a smile. At first it was shaky, like a kid who’s riding her bike for the first time without training wheels. But then it turned into a genuine, honest-to-goodness smile. Raising her hand, she waved good-bye, and the little green car pulled out of the parking lot and drove away.

Sometimes it’s the everyday, ordinary living that’s the hardest.

While it’s easy to be kind to people we like and those who are like us, it’s harder when we have to make the effort to reach out to the exhausted in life and pull them to their feet by showing kindness with a smile. Sometimes its just easier to judge and be judged than to look for the best in each other.

But life’s too short to be unkind—to anyone. It’s an abuse of power and authority. Meanness is never an option for the Christ-follower; we should go out of our way to be kind. I remember reading somewhere that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

It’s true. And I’ve never been more aware of it then when I drove away from Chet’s Quik Stop that day.

“Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.” (I Thess. 5:15b The Message)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Spiritual Bargain Shopping

There’s a Home Goods store close to the Starbucks where I like to settle into the comfortable leather club chair and work while I sip on a decaf soy latte. Every once in a while, I’ll drive over there when I’m finished and walk through the store to see what bargains I can find on the clearance shelves. Of course, I know when I walk through the door I’m not going to spend more than the ten or twenty dollars I have tucked in my jeans pocket. Like I said, I’m there for the bargains — something pretty I can hug to my chest and feel good about while I’m telling Terry how much money I saved him.

But lately, God’s been teaching me something about my bargains. They don’t have a lot of lasting power. Most of them sit on the mantle or a side table somewhere until I find something prettier and they’re banished to the “bargain cabinet” in the family room that’s full of stuff that will eventually find its way to a donation bag or yard sale. It’s the treasures in my home that have the staying power. The objects that are full of heart and soul and speak of sacrifice and thoughtfulness. The objects that instantly remind me of places I’ve been or the people I love like crazy and those who love me back.

God whispered in my ear this morning that it’s the treasures that have a palpable heartbeat, carved deep with meaning that bring satisfaction to my soul. Next to these, my bargains appear pointless and trivial and I wonder why I bother to waste my time and money on them. He also reminded me that bargain shopping is the wrong approach to my spiritual life as well.

I’m so busted. God knows I don’t want to hold worthless spiritual victories to my chest, but sometimes I do. You know, the ones I can feel good about while reminding him just how much I’ve put myself out for him. And the truth is, they don’t really mean a thing. I knew it when I walked through the door, ready to spend only the paltry offering in my unmotivated, unenthusiastic heart. I knew it then, and I knew it when I set my miserable, meaningless spiritual bargain on his altar and turned my head away in shame.

It’s only when I go for broke – when I give him everything with complete abandonment – that I discover a spiritual treasure that speaks my name, reminding me of how much I love God, but more importantly, just how much more he loved me first. And that my friends, is no waste of time nor money.

” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list.” Matthew 22: 37-38 (Message)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Life’s Too Short!

God’s timing is, as usual, just perfect. After two years of life interrupted, I just got a great report from the breast surgeon and oncologist in late Spring with orders not to come around for a year unless something out of the ordinary shows back up on my doorstep. No sooner had I finished my happy dance than God began to roll out his will for my immediate future like a red carpet. Inviting and bright, it beacons me to a place I’ve yearned for. It’s like sitting in a rainstorm after an unexpected and unplanned vacation in the desert.

After years of advising and helping others get published, I am finally working on a book project of my own! Earlier in the year a publisher approached me about writing book 2 in a series called, “Life’s Too Short.”  I’ll be writing a collection of 70 short essays to young women on living life authentically and what’s important in the process. It’s slated to be on the shelves in April, so with a November 1 deadline breathing down my neck, it’s a sure bet I’ll be eating and sleeping “Life’s Too Short” for the next four months! After a recent meeting with my agent, Terry presented me with a new crock pot recipe book. I’m pretty sure that’s his way of saying he’ll be okay fishing his dinner out of the crock pot if I can just manage to throw the ingredients in there in the morning before getting immersed in my writing task for the day. Teamwork at it’s best!

So, as I begin writing today, I’d like to invite you along for the journey. Here’s where you come in …

In the context of your own life, how would you finish the sentence: “Life’s too short …?

I’m truly interested in hearing your perspectives as I write these chapters over the next few months, so jump right in. Wax poetic. Be opinionated.  Impart witty repartee. Tell me how you really feel. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, just life experiences that spill back into the true reality of living. Don’t be a stranger …