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To Do and Don't Lists

The other day before school my oldest sat marker and notebook in hand.  I was trying to urge her on before she would be late.  "Come on to the table," I nudged. I glanced down, "What are you doing?"
She smiled back shyly, "I'm making a list.  A list of things I have to do in the morning."  Only it was morning.  Right now.  She skipped off to do more of the things on the list.  
I smiled.
A to do list.  And she's eight. 
I like the pictures :) 
It's a pretty basic list.  
Clothes on. Check.
Shoes on. Check.
Teeth Brushed. Check.
A bowl of cereal. (Apparently overflowing) Check.
I haven't figured out the last two pictures and they were left unchecked... 

A few days passed and I read the emailed, Happiness Dare of the Day I had subscribed to from Jennifer Dukes Lee.
The dare of the day included putting extra things on your to do list you know you can mark off.  Even if they seem silly.  It's in the being able to check them off that increases your happiness.
I laughed. 
But I decided to try it. 
It's been years since I really did this.  To do lists of practical daily tasks.  
When I had worked an office job before baby number two,  I enjoyed checking off the things I had done and moving on to the next. I would form a list of what I had to accomplish and checks littered the page.  
A quiet simple satisfaction.  

After being a mother and leaving public work I kind of gave up on to do lists.  
They became a source of frustration.  
I would make one, start something and then surprise, an interruption.  Interruptions salt and peppering my day.  Every day. 
A to do list kind of stood and mocked me.  A reminder of many half done tasks or seemingly simple things put away for a different day. A day with less interruptions. 

Thats the thing with being a mom, not too difficult or intricate things.  Just things that take some time and perhaps a few moments of unbroken attention.  Simple things only made complicated with little people and the dynamic they bring.  
I read once that motherhood is the ministry of interruption.  I laughed.  I get it now.
Wonderful and beautiful interruptions too, but interruptions many times nonetheless. Kind of like stop and go traffic.  You make progress but constantly find yourself sitting behind a new task or obstacle not feeling as if you have progressed. 
Another comparison would be a computer screen with too many tabs opened.  Navigating from one to the next.  
(I remember different times in my life after kids that I actually loved doing some big projects just because I had to arrange child care and had moments of unbroken focus. You know it felt kind of weird actually getting things done and not stopping and restarting. ) 
Last week i got out a simple black college ruled notebook and scratched out a humble non impressive list of things to do.  
As I wrote down the practical things I had to do I smiled.  
There were no big things. 
Would checking them off really make me feel happy?
I went through the day checking them off consciously.
If I  was interrupted and had to revisit the list and restart tasks but  the list helped me refocus.  At the end of the day they were almost done.
Jennifer Dukes Lee was right.  It did make me happy.  A simple happy.  
This reminded me of some thoughts on lists I have read this year.  
Crystal Paine talks about making lists whenever trying to accomplish any personal goal.  It's your road map to get there.
In her book Say Goodbye Survival Mode she talks about writing down goals that seem insignificant or small.  How they all add up and they foster a sense of confidence and accomplishment.
She talks about breaking down goals into bite sized pieces.  
After reading through her suggestions I decided to scratch down other goals.  Not just a list of mundane errands, bill pay, school activities, and household projects to finish.  A list of goals.  For me.  It's something I've long lost.  

My dad frequently prods me when we talk, "What's your dream?  You still have them right, Somer?" 
I used to feel my face flush and my mouth curve up when I considered his questions. 
It seemed ridiculous.  For me.
Dreams?  I was a simple little housewife washing dishes and sweeping floors.  
It felt like a game to play along with.  
But as of this year I have decided to play.  
He will send me a, "Whats your D.O.D.?" Affectionately abbreviating the Dream of the Day...
I reply back, "My dream of the day is...." 
It doesn't have to make sense or be something that actually seems plausible.  It just has to be something I'd like to do.  
We exchange the dream. Mine and his. 
They have been varied. 
Last week I said and meant it, "I really want to go to Norway.  I just do." 
He laughed, but still played along.  Then I decided I would check out books on Norway and figure out why I wanted to go.  Or maybe and most likely i'll just learn about Norway.  
This game of dreams is a list that keeps running. We talk about possibilities and things we want to see, do, and experience.  And while the list is long and some things undoable it's the making of this list of dreams that's half the fun.  It makes for good conversation. 

I've made many lists in my life. But they weren't necessarily to do lists.  
As a very tightly bound child I made a heavy lists of my sins and kept it going.  I recently found my prayer journals from high school and middle school.  After reading through them and reading the way I mentally beat myself up all of the time I felt sick. It was filled with self loathing and shame.  Shame for nothing.  I tossed every one of them in the trash.  
I now actually have nasty ugly sins that I could scrawl onto a sin list, but something has changed.  In me.  I finally see that God sees that ledger of my own sin under the lens of His grace.  Even if no one else does.  I needed to get that.  That His lens of righteousness trumps my list of sin.  That though it's deep and dark, His grace is deeper still.  I never really got that before.  I had to completely blow my list out of the water to experience His grace.  I was a person that always tried to keep the rules, but did I ever strike out.  But grace could catch me. And it did.  I actually understand what grace is.  Now.  And now I can give it.  Grace is something that is best experienced personally.  And I really hadn't known it before.  Oh, I had spoken of it, but I had never known what it was to be the needy recipient of so much of it.  From man.  I had always been nothing but needy for it in the eyes of God.  

I've made other lists in my twenties.   I penned  lists of gratitude.  I did this for several years.  It was my therapy.  It was a way out of a time of deep loneliness in my life.  I kept refusing to be sad by combatting the sad with all the things I saw in a day that were reasons to take joy. 
I filled notebooks...I have no clue how many it tallied.  It keeps going. 
I scrawled down memories.  Things this baby did, things my oldest girl said.  I form the words on paper so my heart remembers.  
I love these lists. 
I keep lists of gifts to give at Christmas, thank you cards to write.  Books to read.  Things I should eat and things I shouldn't...
So many lists....  

But this list of things significant to my person or any person kept coming up.  The lists that guide a life.
Shauna Niequist talks about these more crucial lists in her book Bittersweet.  The lists that are skeleton of a life.  
She talks about her affinity for trying to do everything.  Like a to do list that keeps morphing, growing, and expanding.  She decided to make a list of things she does and then a larger list of things she doesn't do. 
She speaks of the list called Things I don't Do, "It's brutal, making the list of Things I Don't Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I've discovered that the list sets me free.  I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I'm tempted to go rouge and bake muffins because all of the other moms do, I come back to the lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy.  And that one day I'll stand before God and account for what I did with my life.  There is work that is only mine to do...The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be.  It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being."  (pg. 60)
After reading this I thought about my two lists.  Things I do.  And things I don't do.  What they look like and what they need to look like.  That I need to sit down and form them physically.  Those lists that mean the most.  Those are the ones many times we don't write down.  Like our personal vision for our life, for our family.  Those are the most important lists. The lists of where we are going ultimately and how it is we are going to try to get there.
Many times The Things I don't Do whittles room away for the Things I Do.

So now I'm back to making some lists.  Housewife or not.
Lists of goals.  Even goals that seem silly or trite and some that seem serious. Personal and familial. All sorts of goals.
I'm making lists.  Not rigidly because I don't lock myself into rigidity. But more regularly.
I'm trying to plan things out.  Even simple things like sticking to my grocery list instead of free styling my way through the store trying to make it out with four kids intact.
I'm keeping running streams of dreams.  Dreams that come true and dreams that just lift your chin up to hope. It's fun...
And I'm trying to make lists of the real things of life that I want to do. That I want my life to be about. That's what needs to comprise the lists of Things I do.   Things I want to do and are right for me. Somer's list.  Her game plan.  Her compass.
I have yet to scratch out the list physically of things I don't do, but I am starting to see them rise to the top of my life. They can easily be skimmed off when I know they only impede the lists of what I really want my life to be about.
I've said no to things lately that I know need to be on the list of Things I don't do.  Even though they were good things.  It just didn't make the list. And I forever have learned unwise things that also have landed on the list.

My lists don't include check boxes or sharpie art like my oldest girls, but they bring quiet satisfaction and a sense of direction and accomplishment.
Finally, I must keep making the thankful lists.
The times I have stopped, I become foggy, disoriented, and I lose my way.
I always go back to the list.  It is the perspective giver.  The to do list gives a vision, the things I don't do list gives boundaries, but the thankful list gives perspective.
The other day I felt defeat sneaking into my thoughts.  A negative list.  A list of all that isn't.
Before I let it take my all the way down I decided I would go through my house and start thanking God for all that was physically in front of me.  Simple things.  Like our water hose and running water.  And wood floors, and dishes and then specific people and special memories.  The things that were, that didn't have to be.  It is amazing the perspective that the gratitude list gives.  It makes you think I don't have to have anything. I'm blessed to have any of it.  Any at all.
When all the  other lists seem to crumble, shatter, or evaporate it's the lists of gratitude for all of this life and all of God's goodness that keeps us able to once again form a list of vision again.  It keeps us coming back.
And it's the list of all God's promises that gives us the hope to be thankful.  The endurance to keep saying, "Thank you for this" in the face of things that don't add up.  To fight to be positive and not negative.  The hope that this list of God's goodness here in this life pales in comparison to the eternal lists of unending joy awaiting us there.  In Heaven.   When we begin our realest lives.


  1. Nice post! I like lists, and today is the first day in a long time I have actually managed to complete everything on my to do list for work- very satisfying! Gratitude lists are great too- just thinking of the blessings God gives and taking note of them can make a big difference to our outlook and our mood.

  2. Somer,
    I found myself nodding along all through this post! I like to make lists only to check things off for the satisfaction of accomplishment. Lists give us a little control, don't you think? (Not necessarily a bad thing!) But I also did the same thing you did -- trashed my middle and high school journals. They made me cringe too. (We are so alike yet you are able to handle running a home, husband and family and I can't imagine it!)

    I love how your dad prompts you to dream -- so beautiful! I love it that you want to go to Norway! I love it that you still take the time to consider how grateful you are. You are such a beautiful soul, Somer! Lots of love to you! xo


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