do what you do

My Sunday afternoon plan was to finish a work project I’d pushed aside until it was overdue.

After lunch I tucked myself into the corner of the basement chaise while the small folk whooped and hollered and swung their wooden swords at each other, the cause of simultaneous mayhem and magic. Laptop, notes, to-do list, calendar. Everything cluttered. The side table and the sofa cushions. My feet and my head.

I modified the project fifteen times because it had to be visual and had to be gorgeous and so three hours, a baby nap, an errand for John and two antsy big boys later, my brain was backfiring.

So we got up and we got out. I pulled on my favorite pair of worn-out-knee-jeans and the slouchy tee I wear three times a week these days.

We went to the park, which isn’t anything spectacular and amazing except that it was for right then, because we were doing too many things that didn’t matter and on a Sunday afternoon in April, it was spectacular and amazing to wear old jeans and drive to a playground hidden behind the trees and race the boys down the twirly slides and push Shelton in the baby swing while he shrieked and laughed with the deepest part of his tiny belly.


A few weeks ago I started reading Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet. My kind and to-the-point friend Laura handed it to me with a knowing smile last autumn, saying Shauna’s words were good and needed and necessary. But life was life and I didn’t open the cover until March.

Have you ever had a book take up residence on your desk for six months or more, begging you to skim its pages, but when you’re finally three paragraphs into the first chapter you realize you couldn’t have read the words back then because you really, really, really need those stories right this very moment?


In the seventh chapter of Bittersweet, Shauna shares a story of learning how to spend her days, what she should do, of knowing into what she should invest herself rather than, say, going rogue and baking muffins when she knows she should be, say, writing. She speaks of the realization that often what a person chooses not to do can be as significant than what she does accomplish. Accepting our true lives, defining what we are actually called to do and acknowledging our limitations and our strengths can be the castle drawbridge to freedom.


I’m rather obsessive about my to-do lists. I am neurotic about my day planner to the point of spending hours each January hunting down the absolute perfect spiral bound month and week at-a-glance calendar. Multi-tasking is my spiritual gift and I can accomplish a crap ton of work in a flash second.

But mere weeks into 2013 my new turquoise day planner resembled a graffiti laden underpass and revealed a life overflowing with do and very little don’t.

God did a wise thing when ordering the seasons, because we routinely receive fresh beginnings.

I’ve been reevaluating.

Things I do, right now:

  • Nurture my people with good food.
  • Write something, every day.
  • Fold one load of laundry each morning.
  • Complete the work I’m paid to do.
  • Pay attention to the health needs of my family and of my own body.
  • Answer fifteen thousand questions a day with at least an attempted measure of grace.
  • Value conversation and margin above my endless list of tasks.

Things I don’t do, right now:

  • Clean up the entire house before bed.
  • Play groups.
  • Agree to professional opportunities that feel inauthentic, no matter how lucrative.
  • Read how-to books – parenting, marriage, theology, Christian living.
  • Run regularly.
  • Return emails in a timely manner. (See also: phone calls.)
  • Go to PTO meetings.
  • Keep up with my favorite TV shows. (This one annoys me.)
  • Do the paleo thing. Or buy absolutely all organic. Or juice carrots.


There’s freedom here, in acceptance, in allowing myself to breathe, in knowing what I can do and not expecting from myself the ability to do the things I can’t.


(If you feel like it, I’d love to hear what you do and what you don’t do. But no pressure. Because maybe leaving comments is something you don’t do and I’m not going to get in the way of THAT.)


18 Responses to do what you do

  1. Nicole May 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Coming a little late to the topic, but wanted to post a comment anyway. :)

    What I Do:
    Homeschool, because with every fiber of my being, I believe it’s best for my son and where he needs to be right now.
    Make dinners, because eating out was getting too expensive. :)
    Garden, because flowers make me happy and the fresh spring air revives my soul after the long dark that is winter up here.
    Wait, because I’ve been told to, for another little person to join our family. Waiting is hard. But it’s what I do.

    What I Don’t Do:
    Substitute teach for a friend of mine this fall, much as I would like to.
    Write as much as I want (this annoys me, too).
    Worry about housework like I used to. I’m learning it doesn’t have to be clean to be seen. My friends don’t really care if the dishes are done or not. :)

  2. Casey April 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Thank you for the inspiration, and the reminder not to beat myself up for not doing something, even if it’s something I feel is really important. I linked to this in my blog, and quoted you, because I think others need to read the words that brought me up short and made me think.

    Thank you.

  3. Kat April 28, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    What I do

    Eat proper meals, and make sure my family does too
    Run three times a week
    Laundry 3 days a week
    Listen to and talk with my husband and kids, everyday if I possibly can
    Read a few verses of my Message New Testament, daily
    Nap when possible if I am tired

    What I don’t do

    Tidy up toys more than once a day
    Non essential gardening
    Any social events out of obligation

  4. laura @ hollywood housewife April 27, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    What I’m doing: making a list of To Do’s and then actually DOing them.

    (if this seems like I’m taking this post a little backward, well, I’m a quirky like that)

    What I’m not doing: getting caught up in internet drama. Or feeling responsible for anyone besides my husband & kids.

  5. Esther April 26, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I do nurture an atmosphere of learning (for our homeschool).
    I do embrace loving others.
    I do drive children all over the place.
    I do spend time working on my dream each day.

    I don’t lesson plan (in our homeschool).
    I don’t cook dinner every night.
    I don’t clean every day.

    That was fun! I found your blog from a link on :-)

  6. Sarah Bessey April 25, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    I love this. I need to do one of these kind of posts, too.

  7. Christine April 25, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    Thank you for this. I don’t get all the cleaning done. I don’t read as much as I used to. I don’t get outside very much. But I’m not sure these are the things I want to not do right now. The old saying is true, when you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. Maybe I need to adjust my yeses and noes.

  8. Gretchen Louise April 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    I knew you’d love Shauna’s words.

    What don’t I do? Dust. Or get to the mending. Or even read very many blogs right now.

  9. Kelly @ Love Well April 24, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Wisdom, Ashleigh. This is wisdom.

    What I do? I clean my house every week, to keep the neurosis away. I do the laundry. I make from scratch when I can, and call it indulgence. I make dinner from a box when I need to, and call it grace. I write when I can and shrug off the guilt when I can’t.

    I don’t regret. I don’t have time.

  10. Erin April 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    I’ve been turning off the tv and being creative in the evening, which is actually a bit harder to do than I thought. But so nice be achieving things instead of just sitting in front of the tv.

  11. Wendi April 23, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    This is Awesome!!!! I find that often times I have to remind myself it is okay to sit and watch a show with the kids… in the hose instead of making sure the lawn is mode etc. I have also had to learn especially from great fiends;) I cannot say yes to everything and solve everyone’s problems in a day!!! Great post:)

  12. Malia April 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Taking a moment away from what I should be doing (work I’m paid to do) to tell you how much I love your “things I don’t do” list. It was reassuring and reaffirming because I don’t most of those things either. And you “things I do” list is inspiring, especially the writing part. I need to do that- everyday. That is, I need to do the writing that I’m not paid to do…I do write everyday just not for me.

  13. the Blah Blah Blahger April 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I’ve started going to sleep a little earlier…but I’m still not consistently working out every morning. I’m focusing on getting outside of my house and be social, but I’m not keeping said house very clean right now. I’m eating (somewhat) healthier, but not giving up my diet coke addiction. I’ve got that book staring at me, too. I’ll pick it up this weekend!

    Great post!

  14. HopefulLeigh April 23, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    I find that Shauna’s words come to me exactly when I need them and not a moment sooner. I read Bittersweet first, then Cold Tangerines a year-ish later. Even reading Bread & Wine last month spoke to where I’m at, exactly. But I would have missed out on much of the message if I’d read any of those books at a different time in my life.

    You are so wise to know (and work on accepting) what you can and can’t do right now.

  15. Naomi Elle Schwartz April 23, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Things I DO:
    Unload the dishwasher everyday.
    Make coffee and put it on timer before bed, so it’s brewing with the alarm clock.
    Cuddle with my husband when he has a moment.. because he’s working full-time and doing college full-time, and cuddle breaks make the schedule easier for us both to bear.

    Things I DON’T DO:
    Go to photographer get-togethers, read too many photography blogs and get all kinds of insecure.
    A blogging schedule.
    Try to save the world.

  16. AlissaBC April 23, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I love this. I actually just resolved last weekend to focus on caring well for the small number of close family and friends I have been entrusted with and to stop pursuing relationships and approval with acquaintances and people I am no longer close with. So freeing! I also am trusting my mothering instincts more and not researching every darn thing.

    Loved the one about saying no to inauthenticity!

  17. Nicole April 23, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    I do make my kids lunches for school, even though they could do it themselves, because I like doing it and feels right to do so. I don’t feel guilty for giving them chips in those lunches every day.
    Overall, I think I should be doing a little more and not doing a little less. But I don’t beat myself up about it.
    Loved this post.


  1. In which I link you up (vol. 20) | Sarah Bessey - April 26, 2013

    […] Do What You Do by Ashleigh Baker […]

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