Lessons from a Beach To-Do List

We recently returned from a week of basking in the sun. Thanks to a very generous aunt, we planted ourselves right on the beach and stayed at her condo for free for an entire week. It was just the change of pace and change of scenery we all needed. I’m busy catching up on laundry and putting the girls through detox (no more ice cream for dessert every night!), but I’m thankful because our respite seemed to renew our weary, hurried spirits. April and May were busy, busy, busy.

As I sift through the clean socks trying to find the right match and sweep away gypsy sand that somehow journeyed home with us, the I’ve been pondering many passages from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (one of the first books I downloaded on my newish Kindle and one I poured over again during our trip) like this one:

“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing…. Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.1 In our rushing, bulls in china shops, we break our own lives. Haste makes waste.”

And this, too:

“I’m craving it deep: more time to manage just the life I already have. The work, the kids, the meals, the laundry, the ministry, a life so full it can seem empty.”

Isn’t this what most of us productive mamas crave? More time?

Oh, but we’d stuff those minutes full.

Or at least I know I would. I’d cram my life beyond its brim and instead of feeling like I was living a full life, I’d feel depleted, as empty as Ann so beautifully writes.

Maybe what I need more than more time is more awareness – not only of my many blessings, as One Thousand Gifts gently prods me to notice in the easy and difficult, dark and light of my days – but also of His grace.

Grace is a gift as numbered as the sand on the beach, but sometimes it’s as tiny as that single, sandy speck that seems like nothing – nothing – until it’s joined by thousands, millions, infinite glittery grains. Then you have a glorious stretch of warmth – an entire beach to comb, to seek, to search, to give thanks for.

At the beach, I was aware. One morning I lifted my head from the pillow to see the start of day. The sun was just beginning to climb into the sky; the soft strips of morning clouds were carnation pink. The ocean was like a smooth, jade-green stone. The new day, the beauty of the view, and the pure wonder painted before me awakened within me the feeling that I had measureless time stretching before me.

Of course, I didn’t. The days at the beach fell into a familiar rhythm: Wake, breakfast, slather on sunscreen, hit the beach, wade, eat lunch, rest, swim in the pool, idle, bathe, eat dinner, read, sleep. Each day, no matter how slowly it dawdled on, came to an end.

Yet, the slowness of it all, the dearth of too many housekeeping tasks, deadlines, or events made it so much easier to be aware.

During one beach walk, I noticed the way my middle child, my sweet Rae, walked, just slightly on her tip-toes, afraid she might crush some fragile shell. It was easy to observe how my 2-year-old girl’s eyes change colors from an earthy green or pale blue to a slate grey just like her mama’s. When my 6-year-old squinted at me in the sunlight, asking me if I really thought that pewter-colored, stone-like snout that broke the surface of the water ever so briefly before it disappeared in a ripple really might have been a manatee, I saw that the smattering of faint freckles across the bridge of her nose had become more numbered.

Now that I’m home I’m still breathing more slowly and trying to notice and appreciate the little things and to not allow my daily to-dos to consume me.

I was dividing the dirty clothes and towels into dark and light piles and thought to myself, “Oh, I’m never going to catch up and finish all this laundry.” And then I just accepted this to be true – it won’t ever be done. There will always be soiled clothes, freshly-washed smocked dresses that are stained within minutes of wearing. Whom am I racing against, anyway? Why do I need to catch up? Accept that the laundry and your to-do list is a work in progress. It doesn’t ever have to be complete, done. Even if it is, wouldn’t you find something else to pack into your hours?

Life with littles, three children 6 and under (and soon to be four!), is busy, chaotic, noisy, and full. My to-do list is a constant ticker of endless tasks. I used to tackle it with fervor and feel accomplished when I’d finished everything I’d set out to do. But, lately, I’ve noticed I rarely finish everything I’d hoped, and that too often leaves me feeling overwhelmed or inefficient or both.

On vacation, I didn’t make lists. I was away from my place of work. I love my home, but it is my workplace. When I’m there, I have things to do. And I’ll continue to do them, to fulfill my domestic duties and other responsibilities as much as possible. However, I want to escape the tyranny of “to-dos.” I want to be productive within reason and without stress. I want to leave plenty of room to notice those freckles and those chameleon eyes and my child’s dainty gait.

I won’t always be gifted with sand and sun and peeling laughter from my children. My beach to-do list was magical; my daily typical one can be far more tedious. Yet, my reality is whatever I’m living. It’s not back to reality. The beach was real. Wiping down counters is real, too. Whatever I’m doing at the moment is real, and I need to embrace it, be grateful for it, and when my reality isn’t as beachy as I’d like it to be, I need to open myself to grace.

As for what we did during our vacation, not much. Our to-do list went something like this:

1. Ebb and flow.

2. Sip and savor.

3. Nap.

4. Fish.

5. Build.

6. Act goofy.

7. Smile.


8. Take a dip.

9. Look back (but with no regrets).

10. Skip.

11. Squeeze in some nature study.

12. Spend time with good friends.

13. Collect.

14. Bond.

15. Say good-night.

16. Be.

Enter the Conversation...

7 Responses to “Lessons from a Beach To-Do List”
  1. Jess says:

    I’m so glad you guys got that week of family bonding and recharging! :) Ours will happen in July and I’m so excited!

  2. Kate says:

    So beautiful! I’m very guilty of not enjoying what is right in front of me and it’s something I’m trying to work on. Thanks for the reminder :)

  3. Melanie B says:

    Oh how lovely! I’d love a week at the beach. So glad you got such a niv=e break. Kate, your girls are so beautiful! What a joy.

  4. Maggie says:

    I LOVE this post! The photos are so precious!

  5. Jennifer Schaefer says:

    I’m enjoying “One Thousand Gifts” so much! Once I’m done, I plan to start right back at the beginning again :)

  6. Kat Palmer says:

    It’s like I do so many crazy things but in the end waiting for the big moment, for the big reveal that never comes. Sometimes I feel like this rush of life: waking up, going to work, going home, sleeping, and then waking up again becomes such a routine without any meaning. I hope to find some peaceful purpose in this fleeting life.


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  1. […] The chaos and exhaustion was leaving me completely depleted. I’d have a good day perhaps (or even a perfect week at the beach), but then I’d be back to feeling […]

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