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Monday, June 11, 2012

Blessed Are Those Who Don't Do It All





In past seasons of my life, I filled notebooks with goals, to-do's, strategies and techniques for getting things together. From a fundamental place inside of me came the constant, relentless message: Be Better.

I wanted to be better at everything and somewhere inside I believed that every other woman out there was accomplishing all the things I couldn't manage, an entire lifestyle of doing it all with grace and effortlessness. I saw myself as failing in some level at just about everything, not only everything in my life but everything in the world if you counted all the things I wasn't doing. (And I counted.)

If I spent five hours cleaning the kitchen, I felt bad about the state of the pantry. If the house was neatly picked up, the carpet stains screamed loudly at me every time I walked into the room. If I'd baked a fabulous dessert for my family, I berated myself for the mediocre dinner they were served just prior.

But somewhere along the line, something within me broke and I saw that part of myself from outside eyes, like an out-of-body experience. I learned to be kinder to my heart and treat her like a friend of mine and not just an abused little girl who couldn't live up to anything. This was all unfolded, I'm sure, as my depth of understanding unfolded about grace, about the God who loves so purely and completely that His heart for me cannot be changed by any amount of my goodness or lack thereof.

At some point, I stumbled on peace and self-forgiveness.

I started a Things I Don't Do list in my head and began to check off, one by one, the things that would creep up on me and tell me lies. I thought hard about the things that tormented me and decided whether I really needed to make space for them in my life, whether I really did believe my call was to be better in that area. Sometimes the answer was yes. Sometimes, I added them to the TIDD list, and breathed a little easier.

The Things I Don't Do are mostly good things. They are things that may be sacred and creative and might beautifully enhance another person's life. But for me, they are things that would take the space I have to give the other things in my life, the ones that give me life and joy and serve a higher purpose than to simply be better. As I have let things go, I have learned that with less effort to be everything and more effort to be the uniquely created me, I am a little bit better by proxy, and that is the ironic-flavored icing on the cake.

Here is a portion of my list:

I don't go to the gym. My body is not perfect or even necessarily pretty but it is the body that has bore three children and held tightly to a dozen more. It sags in areas it shouldn't and bulges in places I wish it didn't and has erupted in a terrible case of adult acne, but its scars and stretch marks reflect its purpose. I love to see old Bibles, worn from years of use and tears, notes scribbled in the margins and pages bent back. I'm beginning to see my body in this way too, an open book, a love story, in which my life is written slowly into laugh lines and chipped nails, tan lines and chronic illness and chapped lips and birthmarks, calluses and tattoos and scabbed-over wounds that I am beginning to love. My exercise comes in the form of wrestling t-shirts over squirmy kid heads and games of hide-and-seek, hiking to waterfalls and the thousand leg-lunges I do every single day while picking up Matchbox cars. I don't count calories and I eat more chocolate than is good for me but I've decided I'm basically okay in my size 11 jeans because this body has been awfully good to live in despite its many flaws. 

I don't garden. I grow children well, pets poorly, and I kill most other living things. I admire and respect those who find gardening to be a spiritual experience, but for me it is dirt and thorns and grub worms, and it takes all the beauty and mystery out of nature. If I manage to keep alive a rose bush, I resent it for the creative time lost in its cultivation and therefore, gardening makes the TIDD list.

I'm not on the PTA. I'm not the room mother or the field trip chaperone or the teacher's aide. I care deeply about my children's educational experiences but this is not the outlet for that, for me. I admire that there are others who are so much more patient, more talented, more gifted with teaching children and I give them space to be positive influences in my kids' lives, too.

I don't pair socks. Laundry is serious business around here and I spend way more of my life than I care to in the act of cleaning and putting away clothing. We have a Sexton Sock Basket, and when I fold laundry, all socks go in the bin. When someone needs a pair, they Scuba dive for two that pass for matching, and we all live happily ever after, the end. Most people are seriously horrified by this. What kind of mother doesn't even match their kids' socks? Let me tell you. This kind of mother. The kind that has living room campouts with them for the heck of it and throws unbirthday parties every once in awhile and decorates a living room birthday tree for the special kid of honor. The kind who has decided to make other things a bigger deal than socks and does so without apology.

There are scores of other things I don't do. I don't eat organic or change my refrigerator filter as often as it needs it. I don't do play-dates or mom's group or homeschool (anymore). I don't cloth diaper. I don't vacuum every day or run marathons or cook from scratch or iron or dry clean. I am not against any of these things. They're good. They're great, even. They're just not great for me, right now.

I am not totally guiltless over all of these things yet, but I'm getting there. The Things I Do list (I have one of those too) is getting shorter and shorter in quantity, but fuller and fuller in quality and I'm learning to see that as the better thing.  

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are – no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
(Matthew 5:5 MSG)

What's on your TIDD list?

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46 comments:

  1. I don't do nursery or Sunday school at church. Our church is so small that I think it's the unwritten rule that if you have children those ages, you'll take a turn teaching or being in the nursery. But one day I realized that literally every day we were signed up to do nursery, I'd get a migraine that morning. I dreaded it. And, it had gotten to the point that between nursery, Justin leading worship, etc, we never actually got to sit in church together and just worship, and I missed that. I still feel bad sometimes to always say no when I'm asked, but I keep reminding myself that we are involved and serve in SO MANY WAYS, that it's okay to say no to something that we don't really feel called to do anyway.

    Also? Cleaning the bathroom. I mean, I will if I absolutely have to...but it is the one household that I just despise, and generally ask Justin to help me in that area. And if he doesn't, sometimes it doesn't get cleaned for a very long time. 

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  2. Love it, Meredith. I don't do nursery either. I was guilted into teaching Sunday School once when we lived in TX and resented it. I was terrible at it, I didn't want to be there, and I did child care professionally with all but 2 hours of my week. Like you, I decided it was a better spiritual practice for me to be in church during those hours with my husband and getting filled up to be poured out the rest of the week. I highly appreciate and admire those that give of their gifts in this way, but it's not for me either and doubt it ever will be. And my toilets haven't been cleaned in weeks, so I'm right there with ya! ;) 

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  3. I like the idea of this TIDD list. It looks like I share several with you. The one where I differ, I differ because it's something I already love.

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  4. Love it, Cara. You're making me re-think some of the things I do, because frankly, my list is long--probably too long..... I love your REAL self. You bless me again and again! 

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  5. Tara_pohlkottepressJune 11, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    yes.yes.yes.  there is a lot that i don't do.  and i wrestle against my past perfectionism.  but there is beauty in the grace of loving who you are and what you can and do bring to the table.  let all the other mom's sort those socks. if it works for them, great.  for me and my house? we will serve in flip-flops : ){oh, and not wash our feet before we climb in bed either}. 

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  6. Oh, how I admire you!! I long for that type of freedom from all of the things "I should be". Sometimes I roll along pretty good, not caring too much, but lately, I've been plagued by that list in my head. Thank you for this! I really needed it today.

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  7. I don't do nursery, either. Very often, my two girls are the only kids in there, and I need a break from them!!! I've promised myself that--in just over 5 years, when I have no children in the nursery--I will add myself to the rotation. But not one second before. I don't wax my wood floor or my minivan, and I don't dust the log walls of our cabin (or much of anything else). I don't send Christmas cards, anymore. I don't wash my windows because...what's the point? Someone's always making nose or fingerprints. I don't do any yard work at all, ever. I don't make my babies' food...unless you count breast milk. I don't pump. I don't cloth diaper or baby wear. I don't sew; are you kidding me? I hardly ever wear makeup, color my hair, tweeze my brows, floss my teeth, or do anything w/ my fingernails or toenails. Hoping to improve in these areas.

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  8. I think you may have just changed my life for the better.

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  9. Omigosh - I LOVE THIS. And size 11??? Give me a stinkin' break! Last time I was that size I WAS eleven. This is very wise, Cara. Very wise indeed. 

    I don't do ironing. Ever.
    I don't do gardening, either. Though I love to look at it, I let my husband and some trained professionals do the bulk of it. I do arrange flowers from the garden, however. And I do dead-head the roses.
    I don't do dishes very much any more. My husband took over that job when I was working - and we've left that labor division in place. I cook, he cleans.

    It took me a long, long time to let some of those things go. But I am so glad that I did. You're learning earlier than I did - CONGRATULATIONS!!

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  10. Oh, good to meet you! I love the sock basket idea! I manage to get my peeps socks to their drawers but I only match my own! Ravinia went through a stage of non-matching socks on purpose and what fun that was. Refridgerators have filters?
    I don't do makeup (most of the time). I don't do haircolor (anymore), I don't do TV or News or anything political (unless Ann Voskamp has linked to it or my husband reads it aloud). I iron while watching DVDs (so husband doesn't take it all to drycleaning and spend my coffee money) but not otherwise! Thanks for permission to keep a TIDD list.

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  11. As a young guy, I don't have anything to add to this...

    Except for the fact that you rock.

    And your kids surely adore you!

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  12. I totally have to make a TIDD list.  What a marvelous idea.  It sounds freeing just reading yours.  Thanks for sharing!

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  13. I so much adore you, Cara, friend! So. Much. !!! 

    It's freedom you're talking about and life giving. You go, girl! 

    (refrigerators have filters? seriously?) :) 

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  14. One of my friends had an epiphany when she realized she was spending all day keeping her house clean and doing nothing for herself. So in the times she would have normally spent scrubbing floors, she started to learn guitar. I like the idea of a TIDD list. And I love your comparison of your body to a well-read Bible. That is a powerful metaphor.

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  15. One of my friends had an epiphany when she realized she was spending all day keeping her house clean and doing nothing for herself. So in the times she would have normally spent scrubbing floors, she started to learn guitar. I like the idea of a TIDD list. And I love your comparison of your body to a well-read Bible. That is a powerful metaphor.

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  16. I am a recovering homeschooler.  I'm loving the simpler life I now lead ... I have time to cheer for my kids, instead of grade their performance.  I can go for a walk with them, instead of do the mopping I couldn't do while I taught phonics.  And on and on.  Your words have been another "helping hand along the way" to letting go of the guilt. 

    The next thing I'm not doing: replacing the seed in the bird feeder.  I have 5 kids and 3 pets to feed and clean up after.  Why am I taking on more work?

    Blessings, Bobbie-Jo

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  17. I LOVE this.  Seriously so much truth.  Today I was beating myself up (again) for being a horrible Mom, when in reality, I am enough.  In Him, I am always enough.  Thanks for the beautiful reminder.  -Kim @ likethelove.blogspot.com

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  18. "I learned to be kinder to my heart and treat her like a friend of mine" - I'm learning this too, friend.
    I love your list and I'll add one of my own, I don't scratch cook every meal - healthy options abound and sometimes a bowl of cereal or peanut butter toast is well enough.

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  19. Sounds like I'm in good company. And a big AMEN to the bowl of cereal/peanut butter toast business. Learning to relax my expectations is a beautiful thing. Thanks for coming by. 

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  20. I'm a recovering homeschooler too who agrees. I am a better cheerleader and mother than teacher. Glad we are walking this road together. Let the bird feeder sit empty, friend! Thanks for coming by. 

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  21. Thank you, Frank. That's a beautiful story, trading spotless floors for a new hobby. Hope she was uplifted by it. Thanks for stopping in. 

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  22. Amy, I adore you too! :) Yes, freedom... it is so breathtakingly freeing to lay down self-guilt and be able to live. 

    My refrigerator has filters for the water/ice maker. I don't think they all do, but it's so bad that my ice tastes funky. Probably time to scrape up the $60 and get a new one. 

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  23. You should. It is freeing. The more I write on mine, the more I want to write, which is contrary to my nature of wanting to do everything. It gives me release, and permission to be who I am and not try to be more than that (and wind up less in the process). 

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  24. Duane, a young guy? What are you trying to say? That I'm an old woman? (wink, wink). 

    I think guys can get tangled in unrealistic perfectionism too. Maybe it often looks like the ridiculous amount of "provider pressure" men can carry and forgetting that their most important investment to their family is their heart and hands and not (just) their paycheck. 

    Thanks for stopping by and your sweet words. My kids generally do adore me, until chore time comes around. ;) 

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  25. Beth, nice to meet you too! I think only refrigerators with water/ice dispensers have filters. Good for you for embracing what you don't do. Keep at it!

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  26. Thank you for coming by. I don't iron or garden or fuss over dishes much either. My husband does most of the dinner cooking too because we discovered he loves it and I resent it, so it's one way he makes a big impact on our household and takes the load off my shoulders. I didn't think to mention in this piece how we can work towards compromise with the other people in our homes to get the necessary stuff done. (And I'm sure grateful my kiddos are now old enough to do dishes, hah!) 

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  27. I think that may be the coolest comment I've ever gotten. ;) Thanks, Bill! I appreciate you coming by. 

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  28. Becky, thanks for reading. Can I suggest, friend, to let it go? That list that holds you captive? Be the you that nobody else can be, and let everything else fall away? Those "shoulds" can smother the goods if you give them more credit than they're due. Praying for you, Becky. 

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  29. haha i love your dont do list...and many of them take the pressure off you for sure to live up to expectations that are put on you by society or others...i like the freedom in your list...

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  30. Amen!! I'm all about flip flops and dirty feet. Thanks for coming by. 

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  31. And you bless me back, dear Krissie. Thanks for coming by! 

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  32. And that's just the point for me, Megan... to free up my life to have more time to do what I love and be there for who I love. Thanks for coming by! 

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  33. This is good, friend...and a breath of fresh air to so many...including me. Just the reminder of grace and that NO ONE does everything....it's impossible! You are awesome in my box in about a hundred ways.....NO...seriously!! ;-) 

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  34. Thank you, Brian. I like the freedom in my list too. :)

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  35. Thanks Lindsey! And right back atcha, friend!

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  36. Oh, my, this is great!  I need to start one of my own TIDD list, and pray away any false guilt.  Your post goes with what God has been showing me lately: I need to follow Him alone, and that means saying "no" to some good things in order to do what is "best"/what He has uniquely called me to do...still in process...Thanks, Cara :)

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  37.  I
    learned to be kinder to my heart and treat her like a friend of mine and not
    just an abused little girl who couldn't live up to anything.

    wow cara. this is beautiful. and this is what i'm learning to do, too. i would love to post this on my eating disorder blog sometime... would that be okay?

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  38. Yes! Saying no to good things is so, so hard, but when we do and we are free for the best things, the things that only we can do, we can begin to experience the freedom of saying no. It is hard to do... I know this and I am not a fully recovered perfectionist yet by any stretch of the imagination, but... one by one, those things can fall off my list and I can be a little free-er. 

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  39. Absolutely, Emily. Thanks for considering it. If you'd like me to make any changes for a better fit, let me know. Thanks for your kindness, always and for helping people in such tangible ways to learn to treat their hearts more kindly. 

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  40. All I can say is thank you God for my 5 girls :) They have really helped me "lower my standards" in a good way :)
    I think carpet stains are an act of compassion and dusty shelves a public service :)
    Thank you for this refreshing post. I really enjoyed it!

    suzy @ http://scrapsofstarlight.blogspot.com

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  41. I loved the honesty in this post and the beauty of your heart shining all through it. I laughed about the gardening. . me too sister. I am having trouble with a bonsai tree in my kitchen window that needs nothing but sunlight and water one time a week. Truth.

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  42. a sock basket! i love it! i rarely fold my kids' clothes. they often go in the drawer as is, to the chagrin of my own mother:)

    i don't do hair--or gift wrap. we stay home a lot. with a 2 and 4yo, it's usually simpler and happier that way for all.

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  43. Thank you for writing this and sharing some of the things on your don't do list. I need to make one! I need to refer this site to lots of my friends. And mostly to me!

    I don't do gardens well -- my mother-in-law is helping my son who longs for gardening learn how. I don't do pets well either! I used to have a post-it note on my computer -- be excellent in a few things. 

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  44. I just tweeted this as it has inspired the socks off of me. And yes one of my favorite parts is the unmatched sock bin. Like minded here and other places. You may never know how refreshing I find this post. And there are so many ways in which I have decided to let my self off the hook a bit and free myself up. There are seasons waiting for some of this. One day I may match more socks, or take on some of the other things about which you write, but I am trying to get down to a much more simple approach. And focus on these guys of mine (16, 17, 22). Thanks for sharing your story. You have touched me today in a way I must have really needed with your words. And if we had a dime for every plant I have killed. But i keep trying and buying those green things hoping the next one will hang around and be green with me. Peace to you today..

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Your comments are such an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your valuable words.