It’s 9:20 p.m., and I’m at the computer, working on an article. My writing often gets done once the chores of the day are completed and my little ones are asleep.

The phone rings. It’s a friend, asking if I can watch her 2 and 4 year old girls tomorrow morning for an hour while she goes to the eye doctor. She’ll drop them off right after my daughter leaves for school.

The call waiting clicks, and I ask my friend to hold. It’s an acquaintance from my daughter’s school.

“Keri, it’s Annette. I’m here at the PTA nominating committee meeting, and your name came up,” she begins. “We were wondering whether you’d consider an executive position on the board for next year.”

I am a firm believer in parents, especially Christian parents, being involved in the public schools. My friend Doris, who goes to my church and is the PTA president, has been after me to get more involved for two years now.

How am I to respond to the opportunities that come my way? Because I believe strongly in being involved in my children’s education, do I have to serve on the PTA board? As a Christian, is it my duty? Do I have to do it this year or can I put it off until next year? If my friend has watched my kids for me, how often do I have to watch hers? Every time she asks?

I feel sometimes like I am practicing tennis with the ball machine, and someone hits a switch so that the balls are flying faster than I can hit them. I have to let some go by.

But which ones? Which opportunities do I take advantage of, which do I simply let fly past? How do I decide whether to teach a class at church, join a neighborhood bowling league, write an article? When should I say yes, and when should I say no?

I want to use my gifts, to pay attention to God’s calling and respond to it. I also know that a big part of my calling is my family: caring for my kids and my husband.

A wise friend of mine puts it this way:
“I picture myself juggling a lot of balls. Sometimes, I drop a ball. In most cases, that’s not too big of a deal. But a few of the balls, like my husband and my kids, are glass balls. So I make sure I do whatever it takes not to shatter those balls.”

Some of the balls are rubber, and will bounce if we just give them a little push now and then. Some are lead and just weigh us down and we shouldn’t be trying to juggle them in the first place.

Sometimes we have to say “no” to opportunities, to requests that other people make. The discipline of saying no, and wisdom to know when to say it, is a great challenge.

Sometimes, I need a little help saying no. My friend offered me some insight on how she paces her life in a way that keeps it from getting too hectic: green X days.

Green X days are days on her calendar with a big green X through them. No appointments, no activities, just a day that is unhurried. While her boys are at school, she’ll sometimes use the green X days to go spend a few hours in solitude. It’s not drudgery, it’s not something done out of obligation. It’s a gift to herself, a way of protecting and nurturing her soul.

I pondered this. What would my life look like with a big X through a whole day once a week? A day, or even a few hours, protected from the demands of others?

Recently, this friend presented me with a set of markers, encouraging me to use them on my calendar.

So the markers are sitting on my desk, waiting to be used on my daytimer. I keep staring at them, thinking: all I have to do is to take one of those markers, and draw two short lines: an X. Take that marker, and I can seize a day … or at least part of one, time for myself and for God. But I’m a little scared. And I’m not sure why.

Because my son is still in preschool, I only have part of a day with no kids. About eight hours a week, in two or three hour increments, time that has typically been used for my writing. It’s a little hard to think about giving that up.

But I realized that today, I spent part of my “no kids” time having lunch with my husband and then the rest of it by myself, walking in the woods. In retrospect, I had drawn a thin green X through a few of this afternoon’s hours.

I considered the rest of the week. I then bravely placed a green X though two hours of Wednesday afternoon. This, I realize, is a glass ball I cannot afford to drop.