How to Waste Your Life and Call it Beautiful

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There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


When the baby of our family was born over nine years ago, I had a seven-year-old and a four-year-old.

With seven plus years of motherhood under my belt, I’d learned a few lessons about letting go, chilling out, and realizing that it’s all going to be okay. In light of this hard-won Zen version of myself, I decided to enjoy my third baby like nobody’s business.

I would not fret. I would not pursue unnecessary work or projects. I would bask in this last brief season of babyhood and love on my darling boy whose very name means “mercy.”

Mercy. That’s what he meant to my husband and me.

For a very long season, I assumed that I wouldn’t have another baby. My marriage had almost ended. I was working full-time. Life was terribly messy.

And then, it wasn’t.

God breathed compassion into our story. Our third child represented the underserved gift of new life for our family and I resolved to enjoy his babyhood in a way that my angsty, younger-mom self wasn’t able to do with my other children.

Today he is a curly-headed, third-grade boy with a perfect sprinkle of freckles across his nose. He’s much too big for me to carry and he talks like a teenager, compliments of his older brother and sister.

curly head

I’m sure his babyhood seemed like a long stretch of time when we were in it — short nights, ear infections, teething, smeared pureed food in his hair. I can barely remember those episodes now. What I do remember is that I received that short season of my life as a gift.

I devoted myself to adoring him.

Much of my life’s work up to that point seemed irrelevant. My education, my career, all the books I’d read, the ambition I’d cultivated — I didn’t technically need any of those things to be an adoring mother.

Sometimes I wondered if I’d wasted the gifts I’d so earnestly stored up.


I’ve been many different moms over the last sixteen years. Grad school mom, part-time working mom, full-time working mom, homeschool mom, stay-at-home mom, work-from-home mom, single mom.

I don’t feel like I’ve ever gotten it quite right.

As I look back across my story as a mother, the one chapter that feels most “right” to me is the one I just told you about — that one to two year season when I cherished my last baby with lavish intention. I did not call it wasteful. I called it beautiful.

Lest you think I’m someone who believes motherhood is my highest calling and the one thing I was put on this earth to do — I assure you, I am not that person. Though I’ve always longed to be a mother and I was over the moon about each one of my babies, reconciling family with personal ambition has been one of the greatest struggles and missions of my life.

Since I was ten years old, I wanted to attend law school right after college. I majored in the right things. I took the LSAT. But at the age of 22, I arrived at a painful conclusion — a career in law didn’t seem very compatible with raising a family. Not for me, anyway. And just like that, I veered from what I’d always wanted to do. It’s hardly a tragic story. Instead of law, I pursued and enjoyed college teaching. After that I fell headlong into my passion for writing, and I’m now enjoying a “second career” in early education nonprofit work and communications, a vocation that combines so many of the jobs that came before this one. I feel one million shades of lucky.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Sometimes I’m still sad I didn’t go to law school. That doesn’t mean I regret not going. It simply means that my heart continues to beat strongly for the kind of work I would have loved.


Over the holidays I was at a retirement party for one of my husband’s colleagues. I had the loveliest time chatting with an acquaintance of ours who’s been a happily-practicing attorney for many years. I asked question after question about his work — why he loves it, if he’s glad he went into law, etc. I told him that I’d always dreamed of being a trial lawyer. He told me I should still think about it, that it’s not too late.

The whole way home and for weeks afterward, I did think about it. I’m still surprised at the way that longing can show up unannounced and just linger for a while.

But the reality is this — I have chosen other things.

Though I have worked and still currently work, I have chosen family over full-time work and my own aspirations — even though family life hasn’t {and still doesn’t} come naturally, even though motherhood doesn’t pay well, even though it sometimes feels like a waste of intellect and resources, even though others may say it’s the less than sensible choice.


Recently I came across a story about another woman who made a less than sensible choice, a woman who “wasted” the resources she’d earnestly stored up, a woman who devoted herself to adoring someone in a way that confounded the more knowledgeable people around her.

The setting is a dinner party. And after the dinner was over, this woman took a pound of perfumed oil and anointed the honored guest, going so far as to let down her hair and wipe the man’s feet with it.

That honored guest was Jesus. The woman’s name was Mary. The imported oil in an alabaster jar was worth a year’s wages.

Can you imagine the awkwardness? An awkwardness that was quickly followed by scoff, scorn, and even contempt. Sure, it was an expression of love and honor but did it have to be so wasteful?


Other guests made the point that the perfume could have been sold and given to the poor.

My own knee jerk reaction was that it could have been rationed out more sensibly. Surely Mary could have saved it in order to provide for herself and for others.

But Jesus didn’t say any of these things. Instead he asked the others to leave her alone and he called her offering “beautiful.”

Whether Mary realized it then or not, Jesus would die in a matter of days and this was her one opportunity to honor him with scandalous devotion.

As she was pouring out the perfume and wiping his feet with her hair, she was actually anointing her beloved Jesus for his burial.

My throat caught as I read this commentary on the story:

God’s people are expected to remember the poor … But Jesus came only once in history to die for his people. Only on this occasion would there be this opportunity to honor Him as He should be honored. 

This moment was not about the poor, it was not about Mary’s rights, and it was not about human sensibility. It was bigger than what anyone could see. Mary’s sacrifice and devotion was part of God’s purpose for her life, for Jesus’ life, and for the redemption and renewal of the world.


receive my life bracelet

Though I’ve given up on law school, I still long to pursue full-time my that overflows from the core of who I am. And maybe one day I will.

But my real life in this season of teenagers and sports and three different schools and community and work — well, it looks like delivering left-behind lunches, supervising math homework, avoiding the laundry, lamenting the dailyness of dinner, refereeing, running a taxi service, cheering from the sidelines, teaching life lessons while driving my minivan, and giving up on any semblance of work-life balance.

At my worst or even at my average, I can begrudge all of this because a.) it’s mundane and repetitive, and b.) it can feel like a misspent life.

I really did not want to write that last sentence because it sounds awful. But it’s where my human heart can land on any given day.

And that’s why, when I read the story of Mary and Jesus and the perfume, I came a little undone on the inside. Truth and beauty lodged themselves within my spirit and I’ve walked a little askew ever since.

While I may not have Jesus in the flesh at my dinner table tonight, He is always my companion. And He tells us that when we provide for the physical needs of those who depend on our care, we’re also demonstrating love and devotion to him.


This isn’t a post about career vs. family. It’s not even a post about motherhood. Not really. It’s about receiving our right-now lives as a gift. And that looks different for each of us.

I’m learning that in each season, I have to prioritize the roles that only I can fill. Only I can be my husband’s wife and my kids’ mom. There are other things God also calls me to do but I always return to this question:

Who needs me more right now?

{For someone who doesn’t love to be needed, answering this question is more discipline than it is default.}

Sometimes only you can be the one to earn a paycheck or contribute to your family’s livelihood. Only you can be the one to take care of an aging parent or an adult sibling. Only you can be the one to help your grown child through a long season of crisis. Only you can be the one to love a difficult student in your classroom or a neighbor who has no one else.

I write from the intersection of my own season and circumstances but this story could be told a million different ways.


What sacred devotion have you been given for this season? Who needs to receive what’s in your alabaster jar?

Only you and your people can answer this question.

It’s easy to worship at the altar of public opinion or even at the altar of sensibility without realizing that you’ve been taken captive. Modern narratives can be sneaky like that. I’m absolutely guilty of imbibing what sounds good instead of drinking from Truth.

I’m also guilty of looking at what others are doing and then feeling like a failure by comparison. In feeling left behind, I sprint to catch up — only to find that I’ve left my own people behind in the process.


Straying from devotion probably comes naturally for most of us. For me, the key is coming back to the presence of Jesus and surrendering to the call of right now.

Today. These people. This season. This work. This devotion.

When we’re running hard toward our hoped-for life, we miss the sacred gifts of the right-now life.

Mary only had Jesus for a brief moment and she did the scandalous instead of the sensible. By everyone’s standards, she “wasted her gift’s purpose.”

Do you know what Jesus said in that moment?

Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives, but not me. When she poured this perfume on my body, what she really did was anoint me for burial. You can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she has just done is going to be remembered and admired.  – Matthew 26:10-13 {The Message}

I don’t know what your life looks like today but I can tell you this. Jesus says your daily offerings are important even though they might seem wasteful by others’ standards.

I’ve lost many years’ wages. I’ve “wasted” years of education. But I only have this one window of opportunity to love my people well right now {while maintaining a semblance of my own sanity.} I’m learning that the teenage years require an availability and energy level that even surpass the little years. I’m sorry if you don’t have teenagers yet and that sentence just ruined your day.

Like Mary, we have a brief window to overflow with the specific kind of devotion that each season requires. It probably doesn’t look like anointing someone with expensive perfume and suffering public humiliation in the process. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t costly. Service is costly. Forgoing your own desires in order to equip and love another person is always costly.

Maybe other people won’t get it. There will be days when even you don’t get it. Will you believe Jesus over public opinion and even over your own opinion? He says your right-now devotion is beautiful, that it’s a proclamation of the Gospel, that it’s a unique and sacred part of God’s purpose for you, for those you love, and for the world.

{And then will you turn around and repeat this truth back to me? Every day, I seem to forget all over again.}


Earlier this week I was hustling out of the grocery store with bags of food that have since been devoured. The strangest awareness washed over me right there in the parking lot.

cheeseboard bfast

I get to do this. I get to do all of this. And it’s bringing me joy — not all the time, but at least for today. Dear God, only you could work this sort of miracle within my stubborn heart. Thank you. And keep doing it. 

One day I won’t be needed in this way but now is not that time.

I want to receive this fleeting season as a gift in the same way that I received the long ago baby season as a gift.

I want to look back on this one, merciful opportunity and call it beautiful.


You may also enjoy:

For All the Defeated Moms: You’re Actually in a Good Place

How a 92-year-old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of my Right-Now Work

How to Pursue Your Hoped-for in the Midst of Your Right-Now Life: A Series


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  1. Faith Tolan says

    So I just about burst into tears right here on the treadmill at the gym as I was reading this. Thank you for putting Into words what is in my heart. Thank you for reminding me and challenging me to live in the right now and appreciate the right now. God just used you in a huge way.

  2. Emily Bennett says

    Needed this today! I knew I was the only one to be able to take care of my youngest during his withdrawal & my husband had to provide for us. I wouldn’t change those years for anything. I know my boy is thankful that he’s healing & not in pain. Only I could do that & that is special!
    The grocery store though…..I need your attitude towards that!

  3. Evelyn Marinoski says

    I’m 63 and I’ve been learning a similar lesson – 4 years ago my husband came down with a very rare bacterial infection that ruined his health. I was really looking forward to getting an online business going and to be able to share the life skills and lessons I’d learned over the years.
    Instead, I choose to be there for my husband. You’re right, it can seem like a waste and it doesn’t feel very “successful” to spend your days being the hands and feet for all the nit-picky things that someone needs done, to make phone calls, go to medical appointments, just be there with them, etc.
    But God’s kingdom has different priorities – and I believe your choice and mine will turn out to be of far greater value than we could ever have imagined.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Margaret Austin says

    Amen and amen. I helped at Night to Shine last Friday night and I used to work full time with that population and I rocked it. I came away wishing I could be useful in that setting right now, but also knowing it isn’t right for our family during this season of our lives. I needed this perspective! Thank you!

  5. says

    Perfect! I too am in that season.(in my own way, as you suggested that we’re all different).

    After a couple years of transitioning from my full time teacher’s aide job (once they “no longer needed” me), I have finally received the part time job I’d been hoping for as a library assistant. I also have just passed the one-year mark with my blog, and had hoped to dive in full force after the holidays and really attempt to grow it into a part-time business. It’s been an expression of my heart and an accomplishment so far that is outside of my normal comfort zone.

    All that to say that since Christmas, life has felt way too crazy, I’ve felt behind on everything around the house, and I’m currently “taxiing” my oldest son three times a week to college until he acquires his driver’s license. My blog has had to “sit on the back burner” for the moment, as real-life schedules and responsibilities take over for now.

    Enough of my details, but needless to say, life has not always gone as planned. Then there were the years of my husband’s unemployment and subsequent years of us trying to get back on our feet. And the fact that although we met in Bible college and trained for ministry, we’ve never been in “full time ministry”.

    Except we are. Just as you suggested, we are ministering in the phases of life that He’s seen fit to allow us to land. We are using some of our gifts to bless our families and others, even if not exactly in the way we had planned. Other gifts will be used when they are ready or needed.

    Thanks so much for reminding me that this is indeed beautiful and to cherish it all. :)

  6. Lori says

    I am touched beyond words by the thoughts of your heart–much of your story echoes my own. Thank you for sharing this. I am printing it and saving and savoring these raw, yet eloquent truths of motherhood.

    • says

      I like the wrï¿erït½i¿½s viewpoints on this subject. It��s refreshing to know that there are people out there with passion in their beliefs. I can appreciate the points made here and I concur with many.

  7. gina says

    I followed the same path. Although we missed out on the law career, I can’t help but think about those lawyers out there who unintentionally missed out on motherhood.

  8. Joan Rampey says

    Oh, Marian, the truth and beauty that spill out of your narrative is simply amazing! Your voice speaks powerfully into so many different lives and situations. Your offering is a beautiful thing! LYF

  9. says

    You’ve known me long enough to know how much I agree with you, how much I resonate with these words. But let me say it again: your words are a gift. Can a post be both a balm to one’s soul and a challenge to her heart and mind? Yes, it can. Here’s proof.

    Love you.

  10. says

    This is such a great post! One I think many, myself included, can relate to on some level… Thanks for your vulnerability and for sharing the perfume lady with us (one of my absolute favourite portions of Scripture right there!) and for making it shine in a new way for me. Seasons of life are crazy and wonderful and messy and marvellous—I’m embracing mine today! Stopping by from HopeWriters :)

  11. says

    I keep hearing these messages about receiving my right-now life as a gift, about true hospitality, and about how our everyday service is worship and God’s truest purpose for my life.

    Thank-you so much for this beautiful reminder.

  12. Mama Mia says

    As I contemplated typing into google “is being a stay at home mom a waste” I felt awful for even having the thought but it was the heaviness that my heart felt in recent weeks. Not a minute later I was captivated by your article, tears pouring down my face as I was once again reminded of the importance of the season I am in. The Truth was in the back of my mind, but the whisper of the worlds viewpoint slowly took over. Thank you for guiding me back into His Truth by such a beautifully written article. It’s moms like you that become a beacon of hope and light for young moms whose families turn their back on them yet never gave an example of a faith-filled life devoted to His purpose. Thank you for reminding me of His purpose and drawing me back to the bigger picture.


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