Introduction – Building Margin


1. the space around the printed or written matter on a page.

2.  an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary.

3.  a  limit in condition, capacity, etc. beyond or below which something ceases to exist, be desirable or be possible.
a border or edge.[1]
Mrs. Hicks, my second grade teacher, taught me that I should never write in the margin. There had to be white space on all my work – basically an inch of margin on the left, an inch on the right, an inch at the top and a little at the bottom. Never write in the margin. You HAD to have a margin. I didn’t know why. I just knew that if you did write in it, she didn’t like it and would use the red pencil to let you know it!

In college, the same rules applied but now there was the tricky problem of setting the tabs on the typewriter so that you had margin. (For those of you who’ve never used a typewriter, well . . . you’ve missed a great experience!)

By the time I went to seminary, I had a computer and with this great invention, I could easily set the margins. The GREATEST thing about this tool was the ability to turn a 4-page paper into the required 5-page paper by increasing a 1-inch margin to 1.5 inch. You could also decrease the margin if you had been too verbose. This is more my problem these days.

Margin. Important in writing. Crucial in life.

Richard A. Swenson, M.D. writes in his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, “Margin is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. It is the leeway we once had between ourselves and our limits.” [2]

Margin is crucial in our lives. No margin leaves us running from one activity to the next. Not enough margin means our energy reserves are used up quickly and we struggle to make it from day to day.

Why is margin so important? Researchers, counselors, and physicians can give you many reasons. I can only tell you what I know to be true in my own life.

Twelve or so years ago, I reached the bottom of a very dark pit. I was running from activity to activity. Working in the church, trying to be the best parent I could be to our son and the best wife I could be to my husband, smiling as best I could, inwardly though, I was falling apart. I tried to hide it. I did an okay job at the church but at home, not so much. Noah, my husband, frequently said to me: “Trish, I’m worried about you.” But my response: “Oh, I’m fine!” But you can only say that for so long. Eventually I could hide it no longer.

I was spent. I had no reserve. I wondered how I, an ordained minister, could feel so far from God. “Where are you, Lord?” Shouldn’t I be able to pray more and pull myself up from this “dark night of the soul”?[3]

But it wasn’t that easy. Diagnosis? Clinical depression. Prescription? Therapy, medicine, rest, prayer.

I didn’t get well overnight. It took a long time. (One day, there will be another book that will tell the story of my journey. Not this one.)

Seeking to stay “well” continues today. And that’s why margin is so important to me. I KNOW that when I don’t have margin in my life, the reserves get emptied quickly. When there is no margin – no room, for rest – no room for renewal – I see the signs of wear and tear on my soul.

My lack of margin did not cause my clinical depression. I know clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. BUT margin helps me to be a healthier self – for God, for my family, for me. It helps me serve God fully and faithfully. God’s desire is that we have the abundant life that Jesus talked about in John 10:10: “I come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

Joyce Rupp, a member of the Servite community (Servants of Mary), published this reflection some 30 years ago that summed up the need for margin in my life:

Can it be?

Have I for so long

Forgotten to feed myself?


For nigh a year now

I was slowly starving

Getting lost in busy days,

Tossing aside the hunger

That chewed away inside.

Yet, I did not die.

By some quiet miracle

I made it to this moment

Of truth:

I nearly starved to death.

It was not my body

That I failed to feed.

It was my spirit,

Left alone for days

Without nourishment or care.

And then one day

I paused to look within,

Shocked at what I found:

So thin of faith,

So weak of understanding.

My starving spirit cried the truth:

I can!

I will!

I must

Be fed! [4]

How’s the margin in your life?

How’s the margin in your finances? Are you living on the edge of your reserves? How about your moral margin? Flirting with disaster or keeping a safe distance?

How about your family’s margin? Do you meet each other in the driveway, all going in different directions?

How about your margin for God? Is God getting what’s left over or are you deliberately creating space for God?

Margin is that space in our lives in which we are fed, renewed, and restored. Margin is that space that keeps balance in all areas of our lives.

Why do we try to do without it? Mrs. Hicks told me I needed it, and aren’t our 2nd grade teachers always right?

– Trish

Introduction from devotional book Building Margin for a Balanced Life, part of the current sermon and small group series at Pine Valley UMC

©Tim Reaves and Trish Archer

All rights reserved



[2] Swenson, Richard. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1992.

[3] Reference to poem and treatise, The Dark Night of the Soul, written by 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic, Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591).

[4] Rupp, Joyce. Fresh Bread and Other Gifts of Spiritual Nourishment. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1985.

Building Margin for a Balanced Life

Giving up chocolate today?  Maybe no Facebook for a while?  No fast food?  Today the Church begins the season of Lent, 40 days prior to Easter (not counting Sundays), in which we examine, reflect, or ponder our discipleship as Christ’s followers.  In observance of Lent, some of you may “give up” something for these 40 days.  Some of you may “take on” something – maybe getting up earlier for more intentional time with God, maybe donating the cost of your daily specialty coffee to a mission.

I would like to invite you to “take on” something by participating in Pine Valley UMC’s new sermon and devotional series.  Tim Reaves, lead pastor at PVUMC, and I have put together a new study called “Building Margin for a Balanced Life”.   We combined our teaching and preaching experience on this topic and produced a 5 week sermon and small group series.  I wrote the devotional book to go along with the sermon series.

Beginning Sunday, February 14, Tim or I will preach on a particular type of margin.  If you’re interested in hearing the sermon, you can download the audio and/or video by early in the week from our church website  Then starting Monday, February 15, I will post a devotion each weekday through March 18.

Margin is so needed in our busy lives today.  Not just so that we have time for more activities but so that we can more faithfully love and serve God.  More on that tomorrow. . . . stay tuned!

A Place to Sit

I love my new sitting room. What do I do there? Mostly just sit . . . think . . . ponder . . . read . . . write . . . pray.

I never knew how much I’d enjoy this new room. It’s really not a new room – just an old room that has changed its function. Several weeks ago, I enlisted the creativity and know-how of my decorating friend. In 2 days, we changed 2 old rooms in our house into 2 new rooms, complete with a change of furniture, paint and purpose. The old living room became the new dining room. The old dining room became the new sitting room.

It’s a much better use of space. I don’t know why we hadn’t done it before now.

Now I have a place to sit and ponder . . .

And there’s so much to ponder. It seems at every turn God has been stirring something within me.

Maybe it’s the “Second Half of Life” questions (Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward) from a recent retreat:

Who am I?

Where do I belong?

What do I care about?

What is my life’s purpose?

Maybe it’s the challenge of the speakers at Catalyst:

“Be a student, not a critic.”   – Andy Stanley

“When you own your story, you get to write the ending.” – Brene Brown

“Do not miss your moment! What God is speaking into your heart now may be for a moment down the road.” – Margaret Feinbeck

“We should be more focused on God’s sufficiency than our insufficiency.” – Louie Giglio

One thing is certain: being still is necessary for me to understand the stirrings of God in my heart.

Thank you, God, for a place to sit.

Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 66:12b – “You have brought us out to a spacious place” (NRSV)

                            “You brought us to a place of abundance” (NIV)


Question to readers: Where is your “place” to hear God’s voice in your life?

Comment here or send me an email.

Seeing Potential

Shed with Potential

I admit it. I am a Fixer Upper fan – the HGTV show that features Chip and Joanna Gaines and their gifts to turn a house that might be a realtor’s problem listing into a beautiful home someone will love for years to come.

I love to watch the transformation: tear down walls, open up space, install new appliances, install French doors, re-do the master bath . . . it’s enough to make me want to move to Waco that so that Chip and Joanna can redo a home for me!

Chip and Joanna have the ability to see potential.

Reminds me of a conversation with my dad at an auction:

Daddy: “Why would you want that, Trish?”

Me: “Because it has potential” . . . my reasoning for buying an old table or a well-worn chair.

This old building (above) sits behind my parents’ home. It has looked this way as long as I can remember. My dad has occasionally said he should tear it down to which I respond: “NO! It has potential.” I know that it could use some paint and maybe a new board or two but I really like it just the way it is.

For me, it represents potential. It’s not the outside. It’s what’s on the inside: Daddy’s tools, his years of working out in “his building” fixing something, building something, reworking something or just piddlin’.

God sees potential. He doesn’t care about the outside but sees deep inside. He looks at us: “oh, yes, I can work with her. I’m not concerned with the outside. I am more concerned with the inside. I can work with brokenness, torn lives, imperfections, damaged souls . . . I do my best work in these situations!”

Thank you, Lord, that You see our potential. Thank you, Lord, that You see it even when we can’t.

Blog entry is part of my sermon “Soul Improvement: A Work in Progress”, preached Sept 6, 2015. If interested in full sermon, audio and/or video found at  If not interested, I will get over it.

A Safer, Drier, Warmer Home in Appalachia

Need some dry wall or OSB?  I can “supervise” someone else installing it!

Last week, I joined 31 other PVUMC youth and adults in a trip to the mountains of NC as we worked with Appalachia Service Project.  The purpose of ASP is “making homes safer, drier, and warmer.”  That’s just what we did!

My team of 4 youth and 3 adults joined another team of 4 youth and 2 adults redoing the inside of a home and putting up vinyl siding on the outside of the home.  We dry walled 3 rooms and one hall, covering the walls and ceilings.  We also put down new flooring in these same rooms.  The transformation was incredible!

What’s more incredible?  God’s transformational work  in the hearts of the team!

As youth and adults served as the hands and feet of Christ, we were drawn together in love with each other and with the families of Appalachia.  We were indeed one in the bond of Christ’s love.


Blind Faith

Every time I see them do it, I find myself yelling . . . “NOOO, don’t do it!”

But there they go: Mommy and Daddy geese, leaving their home around the retention pond and leading their gaggle of baby goslings into the heavy traffic – the six lanes of Shipyard Blvd.  I can’t believe it!  I don’t like to cross Shipyard Blvd on foot and I usually move faster than the geese!  So far in the numerous times that I’ve watched them do it, I haven’t seen any casualties.  Amazingly, folks actually slow down and stop.

It’s one of those moments of life when nature stops us.  There’s no reasoning with the geese not to walk into traffic.

There’s no making them hurry. Some drivers blow their horns. The geese ignore them.

They just take their time and lead their children into the road, unaware that cars traveling 55 miles an hour are dangerous.

The goslings don’t know that they are in danger. All they understand is Mom and Dad want us to move. All they know is to follow their parents, trusting that they will not lead them to be hurt.

There’s something spiritual about watching the geese.   Something about blind faith . . . following their parents . . . trusting the One who gave you life


** thanks, pj bolduc, for the photo

Let Him Go


Parenting is a continual process.  Letting go is a continual part of the process.  I know that’s not news to anyone.  It’s the actual doing it – that’s the difficult part.

It starts early and continues . . . letting go of his fingers so he might take that first step,  allowing him to walk into school all by himself, letting him drive to a friend’s house alone,  watching him walk into the dorm for his first year of college, and most recently, saying good-bye as he boards a plane for 6 weeks of study in Peru.

When Will was just beginning to take a few steps, I was afraid that he’d fall on the hardwood floors of our home.  There was no carpet to break the fall.  There might be bruises or crying or pain involved.  But the only way Will learned to walk was by us letting go.

The first time that Will walked alone into his kindergarten classroom from the school drop-off line, I called Noah crying.  “He just walked into school all by himself.”  Up until this point, I held his hand and walked him into school, exactly like I done when he went to preschool or church or Mrs. Peggy’s house.  All of a sudden, he could do it alone.  He didn’t need me to hold his hand.  I could let go.

And then there’s giving him his own keys to a car.  He no longer needed me to drive him to school.  Yes, to be honest, there were some definite benefits in this letting go.  I didn’t have to enter the school parking lot at drop-off or pick-up times.

Then comes the first year of college.  Now he just finished year three.  How did it happen so fast?

On Friday, the “letting go” took on a whole new dimension.  Noah and I had encouraged Will to take the opportunity to study abroad.  Visit other cultures.  Expand your world view.  Meet interesting people.  Immerse yourself in another language.  It sounded really good in theory but actually putting him on an airplane?  Not so much.

Will and I shopped and planned for weeks leading up to the trip.  Well, I shopped and planned for weeks.  He just went along whenever I said “you have got to try this on” or “you have got to tell me what you need.”  I knew I was stuck in my default setting of co-dependency but I couldn’t help myself.

On Thursday before he left, I began to “panic” with thoughts of:  “maybe he needs this” or “maybe I should have done that” or . . .

And then I heard this small Voice say:  “STOP!  You have done all you can do.  You can’t control every moment.”  It was time to let go.

While leaving the airport on Friday morning, I heard on the radio:  “You can trust God or worry.  But you can’t do both.”  A nice word for 5:30 am.  A word that I needed to hear.

Let him go.

I know that there will be other moments of letting go.  But I will just take them one at a time.  It’s never easy but it’s always part of the process.

P.S.  Yes, I will be thrilled to see my little boy on June 19 – bearded face, curly hair and all.