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What’s on Your Plate?



Each of us has a metaphoric plate of responsibilities given to us or taken on by us, and what’s on our plates changes throughout our lives. 


Have you ever thought about what’s on your plate at this time or at any time of your life? These are some examples of some of the plates throughout my lifetime:

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See how the plate changes at different times of life? I wanted to add a “Cooking” wedge to show how that changed from a sliver in the early years to a much bigger wedge during my later years, but the title was much bigger than the wedge. Cooking regularly was entirely based on whether I was working part-time or full-time, and the year I stayed home to take care of my mother and now my father meant a much bigger cooking wedge.


If my plates included more detail, it would be obvious that I was out of balance in my priorities at times. Sometimes our jobs are so stressful and overwhelming, we don’t know how to stop and evaluate if things could be done more efficiently or better, or if we are even in the right job for us and/or our families. Are our hubbies and families getting too small of a wedge? Or are they (or our jobs) getting too much of our plate to the point we have little left for our own emotional and physical wellbeing?


Some of us are able to handle huge amounts and varieties of responsibilities well— even taking on multiple plates; while others of us, not so much. And that can vary throughout our lives. But when our plates are full and one more responsibility or load is added, it tends to lessen the quality of our ability to handle other responsibilities, or it simply bumps off one of the existing responsibilities to make our plate more manageable or survivable.

When I was teaching full-time, I had very little left at the end of the day to plan, shop, and cook regular, nutritious meals for my family. I didn’t teach long enough to find a balance between work and home, and I allowed work to take most all of my creative thought, energy, and effort. My job filled way too much of my plate, which was not a good situation for my family because it bumped off much of my responsibilities as a wife and mother during those years. I know many other teachers and other full-time workers have managed to find a balance and leave something on their plates for their families, and that’s what we all should strive for in any job or situation. 


A dear friend of mine, Sandra Edwards, also teaches. She told us her stovetop usually displays a pretty flower arrangement, and very little food is in her refrigerator, which we like to tease her about. But living alone, she has unapologetically made the time-saving choice to not grocery shop or cook, which allows for more space on her plate for her work, and she is very good at it. She was chosen Teacher of the Year for her campus last year, and deservedly so. Her fortunate students get the benefit of a bigger wedge on her plate. Isn’t it great to be able to make choices like that?

I’m in my first year of retirement, so I have more time on my plate for cooking. I visited another dear friend of mine recently, and I enjoyed fixing two kinds of enchiladas and all the fixings for do-it-yourself pizzas to take to her home so we would have more time to visit. She told me she felt guilty about not fixing anything, and I told her that I’m in the time of life that allows me to do that, but she isn’t, and she shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Her husband passed away two years ago, and she had to come out of retirement to learn to run his two businesses. The pandemic and extreme downturn in the oil business this year has been devastating for the businesses, but she is figuring out ways to cut expenses and focus on building an Internet presence until the oil industry turns around. I told her it’s perfectly okay to bump cooking (and anything else she needs to) off her plate now and for however long she chooses. Adding guilt just piles on unnecessary and useless weight to one’s plate, which takes away from other worthwhile responsibilities. 


Speaking of guilt, I want to encourage all of you that need to hear this to push guilt and regret off your plate. These soul and energy-consuming thoughts take up way too much space, which leaves less room for creative thought and action. 


I loved taking care of my kids, but I was not a good house-keeper in my early years of marriage, mainly because I had not learned discipline or developed good habits in this area. I carried around such huge guilt that I was failing there, and I had no idea how much energy guilt and regret stole from me. I finally decided I would learn one consistent habit, which was to get the dishes washed every day until I mastered it. I hear some snickers out there, so I’m sure keeping house wasn’t a struggle for many of you. But it was for me, and I needed to fix that.

If I got nothing else done in the house each day other than wash the dishes, I got in the habit of mentally patting myself on the back, and I refused to load my plate with guilt about all the other things I didn’t get accomplished. That didn’t mean I stopped trying to improve in those areas that need improving, but I learned to stop feeling guilty about them. Removing the guilt gave me more energy, and I began to get more done during the day. Guilt and regret are huge energy-zappers, so change your focus to what you’re doing right and see how much more you’ll be able to get done. One good habit led to two, and two to three, and although I’m still not the best housekeeper around, I don’t give a second thought to washing dishes or vacuuming the house anymore. 


Regret is missed opportunities or feeling remorse for something that didn't happen or did happen, but could’ve been done better. If an apology is in order, do it for your own sake and emotional well-being. But as for missed opportunities, feeling regret doesn’t change history, so we need to learn to forgive ourselves and/or others and let it go. Otherwise, regret steals the present from us, as well as our peace of mind. 


Stop and think about what’s on your plate right now. If you want, take a pencil and draw a circle and wedges with what’s filling your life at this moment. Make it as detailed as you want. Are your priorities right, or are you spending too much time and energy on things that really don’t add value to your life or others’? Does the content of your plate show you are investing more in people or are you spending too much time acquiring stuff or maintaining things? Is someone or something important getting a too small wedge of your time? Or are they taking up an unhealthy, inordinate amount of your time?

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As for those of you who may not have enough on your plate to keep your mind and body active, or you spend way too much time in front of a TV or Internet screen, or you know more about famous people’s lives rather than your own friends', family’s, and neighbors' lives, it’s not too late to get involved in more worthwhile pursuits. Be intentional and plan activities with your family and friends. Figure out ways to help out those that need it. Research good causes and contribute to them. My mother enjoyed ironing clothes (I didn’t get that gene), and for a period of time, it made her feel good to help several busy grandchildren by ironing their shirts for work. She also volunteered for the local food bank and hospital auxiliary, even after she was diagnosed with ALS. Churches can’t operate without an army of volunteers, and the same goes for charitable organizations and schools. Ask around how you can help, even from a distance, during this pandemic. 


A precious woman in our church in Cotulla was shy and introverted in public, but she created a ministry of encouragement by writing birthday and thank you letters to members of the church. I still have some of her letters, and the date and time showed many were written at all hours of the night or early morning. Her encouragement did so much for the life of our church. Thank you, Dorris Kruger! This thoughtful woman's ministry was so important, and yet it can be replicated by most anyone.


It’s always good to stop every so often and evaluate one’s life. I confess, too much of my life journey has looked like a pinball machine. I let circumstances carry me this way and that, often letting others dictate what I should be doing, or reacting to things that came along rather than setting goals and determining my own path. It’s so hard to not pick up regret and wallow around in failures and missed opportunities of the past. But that is wasted effort, and I want my last years to be some of my best.

Donna Van Cleve

September 2020

Self Improvement

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