How a 92-Year-Old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of My Right-Now Work

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From January through May I hustled. I got serious about writing. I wrote a series I loved on living in the tension between our right-now lives and our hoped-for work. I set goals and checked important things off the list.

And then summer came. Summer — with her billowy, welcoming arms.

She showed up. My hustle shut down. It was really the best thing for everyone. I let myself be lazy. I let my kids be lazy. We watched Netflix and went swimming and ate lunch whenever we felt like it. I wrote a little bit but mostly I set down the pen and paper and simply received my own summer life. 

I allowed the thoughts to come to the surface and percolate without feeling the pressure to write them down and make sense of them all. And when I did write, I didn’t feel the need to share my words with the world. I steeped in the realities of my right-now life and reflected on the lives of those who have gone before me.The dearly departed whispered things through the summer air and I listened.

I’m still listening.

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For as long as I can remember I have lived in a tug-of-war between vocation and station. By “vocation” I mean career work — teaching, curating, program development, writing — the work I have trained for and been paid actual money to carry out. By “station” I mean my place in life — my roles as wife, mom, and primary keeper of all things home.

For as long as I can remember I have desperately wanted both — a family and meaningful work.

For as long as I can remember I have worried that I wouldn’t be able to have both, that I would have to choose.

And I have. I have made hard choices and I haven’t made them perfectly.

I am still making hard choices.

Back in May, I lost both of my grandparents, Papa and Gigi. After 73 years of marriage, they left this earth just 5 days apart. I realize I’m lucky to have had them as long as I did. At the age of 43, I still had grandparents!

My three siblings and I were their only grandchildren. The four of us decided that I would be the one to compile the grandkids’ thoughts and stories to share at both services. This is what happens when you’re the big sister and you happen to be a writer.

I wrote my Papa’s remembrance in no time. He was a lifelong leader, a WW2 veteran, a teacher, a pastor, and a stand-in father for the fatherless of his community. His funeral service was TWO HOURS because there was so much to say about his life. His service, his vocation, his many roles — they were all lived so publicly. His life touched countless lives. Most of his contemporaries had already passed so I was shocked to see how many people showed up to honor him. His service was standing room only.

Just five days later, I sat down to write my Gigi’s remembrance. I spent hours on it, sobbing through the whole thing and struggling to get the words just right.

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I was a wreck but not because of the grief.

I was a wreck because it was only after her death that I could see her life for what it was.

And it arrested me. It still is.

Here’s an excerpt from what I shared at her service:

Because of her great love – for her Lord, her husband, and her family – she chose, over and over again, to receive a life that perhaps, sometimes, went against the nature of who she was. It’s the one thing I can’t stop thinking about this week.

We don’t elevate this sort of sacrifice much anymore because it flies against our modern sensibilities. We don’t elevate this unyielding devotion to spouse and children and home because women can do so much more than that. And it’s true. We can. Yet she did not choose the path of personal ambition. Instead, she made her family and her home her life’s work.

And because of all that she did, those in her care were able to do all that they did.

I consider myself a modern woman. I have meaningful work in addition to my roles as wife and mother. And while there’s nothing wrong with my other pursuits, reflecting on my Gigi’s life stopped me dead in my tracks. It reoriented me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. She nourished her family with her food and her care. She made a house a true home. She never stopped pouring herself out for her family.

I regret that so many things about her life crystallized in my own mind and heart only now that she’s gone. God has begun to deeply stir some change within me as I consider this woman who poured herself out as a living sacrifice in daily, ordinary ways. She didn’t see her work as menial.

Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.

I find this profoundly beautiful and it’s inspired me to embrace certain things I wouldn’t have chosen, to pour out that which I can offer first to my own family, while I still have the opportunity, and to meet Jesus in the daily-ness of laundry and cooking and repetition.

Her life was its own unique liturgy, one that ministers to me even more now that she’s gone.

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It’s only 9:57 on a Monday morning. Here’s what the day has looked like thus far.

  • Got up at an ungodly hour to run with one child who decided to start running! Before school! While it’s still dark!
  • Came home and cooked breakfast because Mondays are hard and breakfast sandwiches make it better.
  • Cleaned out a gross lunchbox and filled it with fresh food to get my high-schooler through her long day of school and after-school practice.
  • Coached one child through a near panic attack.
  • Carried a too-heavy backpack to the minivan and arranged the various to-go beverages in the cup-holders.
  • Kissed my youngest on the head as my husband whisked him off to the elementary school.
  • Prayed out loud and desperately in the minivan because it felt like an extra Monday-ish Monday.
  • Drove one kid to middle school and the other to high school.
  • Set out the chicken for dinner.
  • Made a grocery list even though I was there yesterday. And also the day before.
  • E-mailed the coaches.
  • Spent an hour on the phone with customer service. They shipped my child’s jeans to the wrong address.
  • Completed some paperwork for my actual job.
  • Hauled the trash and recycling to the curb.
  • Ignored the dishes in the sink and the housework all around me because there is work to be done at my computer.
  • Phoned the pediatrician for a new prescription.

 

No one told me that motherhood and homekeeping would be this sexy.

I don’t write out that list to be impressive or to elicit sympathy. Many of you are doing the same sort of gig.

By the time last May rolled around, even though I’d written thousands of words about embracing your right-now life even as you pursue your hoped-for work, I was actually knee deep in resenting my right-then life. I just didn’t realize it. I was complaining, quite a lot if you ask my husband, about the dailyness of dinner and the burden of laundry and the relentlessness of errands.

My family had the distinct impression that they were in the way of what I really wanted to be doing.

I cannot even type that sentence without weeping. These realizations and reckonings have been more painful than I can tell you.

Ever so slowly I had become so zeroed in on my big important goals and my unique gifts and my “right” to run hard after the things that make me come alive, I had neglected the ones who I love more than life itself.

And that’s why I could barely type out my Gigi’s remembrance. It was a watershed moment for me. I went to my husband in tears the night before her funeral, asking him to forgive me —

For the ways I had made the everyday all about me.

For the elevation of my own work over my own people. 

For the ways I had communicated resentment for all the menial tasks that make a family go ’round.

For the ways I had tried to outsource motherhood.

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I have much to say on this topic because this “vocation / station” tension has been a steady struggle for decades, since I was a girl actually. I have zero things figured out. Because I do still believe that it’s fruitful to pursue the things that are life-giving to us as individuals — whether it’s work or painting or training for a marathon or, in my case, writing.

Only you {and your people} can know when a good desire has become an over-desire. Only you {and your people} can determine your pursuits in any given season. I don’t believe there’s ever perfect balance; it will always be trial and error and I will forever be begging for wisdom and grace. It looks different for all of us.

I can only speak for myself but I know, without a doubt, that I had trampled over the needs of others in the pursuit of my own goals. This reckoning has been messy. As a deeply aspirational person, it brings me literal pain to let go.

But I had to accept that while you can outsource your housework and meals and carpooling, you cannot outsource relationship.

Something changed inside of me when I wrote my Gigi’s story. The life she lived is still reorienting me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. It’s been painful but I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I go back time and again to those words I wrote down three months ago.

Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.

This has become a mantra for me, words on which I meditate as I dump crumbs from lunch boxes and do the glamorous work of thawing chicken.

After a stint of my boys doing their own laundry for months and failing miserably, I reclaimed the task for now and they are feeling ten shades of loved right now.

With my high school daughter’s schedule and stress level, I told her I’ll make her lunch each morning. Not because she can’t but because I can do these things for her. It’s an intense season of her young life and this is an easy way I can love her and lighten her load.

Nothing has changed since my less-than-enthusiastic attitude in May. If anything my responsibilities at home have increased. But I see it all through a difference lens and it can now feel empowering and affirming instead of denigrating.

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Keeping a home, taking care of others, meeting physical and emotional needs ’round the clock — the everyday isn’t fancy or pin-worthy. You may be killing it as a mom one day and stress-eating Swiss Cake Rolls behind a locked bathroom door the next. You don’t do any of it for the money, the hours, the acclaim, or the gratitude.

I began this post three weeks ago. With so many other tasks before me, I struggled to find the time and energy to finish it. But I need these words today more than I needed them when I began.

As I love those around me through mundane tasks, as I supply their needs day after day, I’m trusting that the God who knows me better than I know myself will supply what I need too. It may not come in the form of a book or finished creative work. It may not come in the form of super successful kids whose academic, athletic, or artistic accolades affirm my sacrifice. It may not even come with me getting any better at running this crazy home and caring for the people in it.

I don’t have any guarantees and neither do you.

But I do have right now and the lens through which I choose to see it. This means I’m more shocked than anyone by the contentment that sometimes comes over me now as I wash the dishes. {Emphasis on “sometimes.”}

This reorienting — it feels like a gift from God. A God who turned himself into a human baby, who turned Galilean water into fine wine, who turned a meager lunch into a feast for thousands.

How ironic that my gifts and longings — the ones He gave me — somehow feel out of his jurisdiction. I realize how small I make God and how big I make myself. How I walk by sight instead of by faith when it’s supposed to be the opposite.

Our God is a God of design and also redesign. I trust him with the “ways I’m wired” but do I trust him with the ways He may want to re-wire me?

I trust him with the divinely inspired work but do I trust him with the divinely interrupted work?

I love these words by Emily Freeman:

Our specific offerings reveal the unique version of our worship, not for the glory of us, but to the glory of God and for the benefit of others.  

From A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live

 

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Yes, our specific offerings do reveal the unique version of our worship. And this is beginning to feel more like art and less like drudgery.

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So to all the weary parents struggling with the dailyness of, well, everything —

To the ones desperately searching for work / life balance —

To those who are changing diapers or running carpool when you’d rather be teaching a class or writing a book —

Know that when you’re feeding and clothing bodies, you’re also caring for souls.

Know that when you pour out your life in thankless ways every day, you are making those around you rich. 

Know that seasons are meant to be received, not rejected.

Know that if you need to set aside some of your own aspirations for a time, you’re creating a spacious place for the souls around you to flourish.

Don’t lose heart or lose hope. This, my friends, is good and sacred work.

In the same way that others trust you to meet their needs, you can trust that the God who created you, who loves you, and who cares for you will also meet yours.

 


I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

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Comments

  1. says

    Love you Marian! Thank you for your openness. When I read your words, I always want to give you a hug and say thank you, though you may hate hugs (laughs).

    Beautiful writing and beautiful truth.

  2. angie obrien says

    I have never read something as beautiful as this!!! I have struggled with what is my purpose in life. After reading this I feel justify as being “just a mom”. Thanks you for writing straight from your heart, for it has truly touched mine
    Angieo

  3. Aubrey says

    Thanks for this, Marian. I really, really hate that I missed the funerals. Your grandma was an amazing woman and I loved that last line from the remembrance about how her life was a liturgy. I have also recently been in a season of struggling with the mundane necessities of caring for my family and this was an encouragement.

    • says

      Aubrey, you are in the trenchs of meeting the physical needs of little ones. It’s hard and draining. I think it’s okay to admit that. Much love to you and your precious family!

  4. Lisa says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Lately, I’ve been wrestling with this tension too and your words, oh my, were they beautiful and meaningful!!! Thank you for writing this post and bravely sharing it – 3 weeks in the making even!

  5. says

    I struggle with this tension often, and your series last spring helped me immensely! I found myself releasing some of the pressure to write and embrace caring for little ones with joy. Your words here echo much of my own heart in this matter, yet you have put it much more eloquently than I could. Thank you for sharing so openly and beautifully.

    • says

      Lauren, I’m glad you’ve been able to let go of some of the pressure. I’m still learning this too. We all have our unique seasons and our own pace. On my good days I trust God with both. On other days I’m panic-y. It’s a process, right?

  6. says

    Yes, my precious friend. Yes. And yes again.

    You have articulated–beautifully–just what needs to be said. Right now, to this generation more than any gone before.

    I have more to say about this; I’ll say it directly to you via another channel of communication. But I couldn’t read this and not leave a comment. Bless you.

  7. Brian wooten says

    Thanks Marian,
    U have been silently dealing with this everydayness with resentment and by being passive aggressive to all. Just recently have started feeling better about things by embrassing this station of Life better. Hearing it from another in such detail helps me realize that we are giving and they are not just taking. Have a great fall.

  8. says

    Oh Marian, this was a very timely word for me today. My mantra for this season is “Learn to Love What Must Be Done” – this goes so well with that. The concept of loving the task because of who you’re doing it for is one I want to practice. Thank you so much for sharing this! Would you mind if I posted the link to it on my blog?

  9. says

    This is my first time to your site (introduced through Emily Freeman) and I sat in my kitchen weeping while I read. I needed to be slowed, humbled and reminded of the beauty in my right-now-work. Thank you for your transparency and call to grace as we value those around us in the caring for them.

    • says

      Yes, it can. But I’m grateful that I’m learning creative ways to offer my gifts and work right where I am even if it looks different than I expected. It’s something I’ll be writing about more in the future.

  10. Lynn D. Morrissey says

    Marian,
    Marian, I don’t know you, but I love you your devotion to the Lord, your family, and the creative work He has given to you to do in this world–both in writing on tablets of hearts and writing on tablets of paper. God will bless both, and He will give you the discernment to do what, when. He will make room for all of your gifts, in His time and HIs way. May I share with you words that transformed my life when my daughter was young? They are unassuming words tucked deep into one of Ken Gire’s books that transformed by life, only when I went back to read and re-read them–words that Initially I quickly glossed over and then went back to tuck into my own heart. The words? “Casual neglect leads to catastrophic loss.” I had left a full-time career to raise my “surprise” baby whom I’d had when I turned forty. I have never wanted to be a mother, which only further compounded my situation. But as I obeyed and surrendered to God, He showed me I needed to leave an extremely demanding full-time job, despite how much I loved it or how I felt I was being used. I obeyed, with much angst. Then, amazingly, he gave me a wonderful part-time job, which I could do mostly from home. But to do so and to dedicate the necessary time to it, I needed to have a nanny. After two years, and as my work duties continually escalated, God showed me to give up that job, too. And it’s at that juncture that I read Gire’s words, in a totally unrelated (to motherhood) book. But those terse words spoke *volumes.* I could casually neglect time with Sheridan, whom I adored, assuming that I could still give her enough time around the time she spent w/ her nanny. After all, Sheridan was still in our home while I was working from there. But God so impressed upon me that even that “neglect” of her, could lead to the catastrophic loss of a close relationship with her later. I gave notice to the pastor for whom I worked, and never looked back. My daughter is now twenty-four, and I have never been more grateful that God led me to put her first. She and I have a wonderful relationship now. During her younger years, God also led me to start writing for publication, but it’s something I could fit into pockets of time, when she was napping, or later in school. God was able to orchestrate for me what He asked of me in my writing, because I had not neglected His main purpose for me as a mother at that time. I know God is going to greatly bless your obedience. You will be so grateful you are not neglecting your family. And God will assuredly not neglect His dreams for you!
    Fondly,
    Lynn
    My thanks to Emily Freeman for directing me here!

    • says

      Lynn, thank you so much for sharing your story here. Stories of God’s faithfulness are always in order. : ) What a beautiful, beautiful thing to see how you let go of what you loved and how an even lovelier path returned in its place. And that quote! I can’t stop thinking about it, and how true it is in so many areas of our lives: marriage, parenting, our spiritual walk, etc.

      Thanks for your kind words and encouragement!

      • Lynn D. Morrissey says

        Thank *you* for your kind words, Marian. You are so right: Gire’s quote can be applied to all of life. sometimes it haunts me. But I think his intent was not to haunt, but to help and to awaken us. We have time, with God’s help, not to neglect what’s important. All God’s best to you, dear one, as you raise your family.
        Love
        Lynn

  11. Cheryl Powers says

    Profound, and truth! So well put, what so many of us feel, though I past that stage no, there are so many things I would have done differently if I cold have.

  12. says

    I literally had this same epiphany this summer and I’m 43 too :)
    It’s been beautiful, humbling and reorienting.
    I wrote a post called “Getting Mid-Life Priorities Straight” with my similar ponderings.
    Love, love these words and that we walk them together.

    • says

      Maybe 43 is the magic age?!? : )

      Regardless, it’s proof that our priorities shift with the seasons and always need re-evaluating. Thanks for being here!

  13. says

    I’m reading your wise, beautiful words from the perspective of nearly 70 years of living, 49 years of marriage and an empty nest. I can assure you, everything you have said is true. The great blessing for us as women is that our lives have different seasons. I love what our Pastor says: “God knows where you are, and He can get you to where He wants you to be.” He created you – unique and beloved – and He penned the story of your life long before you drew your first breath.

    • says

      Linda, that is beautiful truth! Thank you for sharing it. I’m so grateful for the wisdom and perspective of older women. And by “older,” I simply mean older than me. : )

      So glad to have you here!

  14. Amy says

    I needed to hear this. I still need to hear it, so I’ve come back to it a few times. Thank you for being vulnerable in sharing this hard lesson.

    • says

      Amy, the great thing about a blog is that the door is always open. : ) I’m humbled by your words. Thank you for sharing them.

      And truth be told, I’ve read it over a few times as well because just last night I was grumbling and resentful all over again. You’re in good company!

  15. Matt Miller says

    Hey Marian! I am just now getting around to reading this. I know I am not your target audience, but this full-time dad and full-time worker got a lot out of this. I, too, have struggled to find the balance between being a loving, engaged father and being a dedicated employee. Even when we divide up tasks and make schedules, there is always something that is left undone, or someone who does not seem to get the attention they need. For a perfectionist, this is difficult. I don’t like when tasks are not done when I think they should, and I don’t like that my kids think they are bothering me when I am working during the times when I should be investing in them. Thanks for writing this. It has helped me process and evaluate what’s going on in our lives.

  16. says

    Sorry, but this was NOT my cup of tea! I found it very obscure and the clues so complicated I lost track of what I was trying to find. I didn’t find the theme and even if I had, I know so little about this particular activity it wouldn’t make any difference. Better luck on Monday!

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