I had every intention of going back to work after the birth of my daughter. Even the twelve-week maternity leave sounded too long to be away from the job I loved at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. It had taken me a long time and a lot of education to get there. I was finally hitting my stride, finally in my sweet spot, doing what I was meant to do every day. How many people can say that? I was one of the lucky ones. I was good at it too. I was even being considered for a major promotion- Outreach Pastor of our latest location; of course I was going back.

Then I had the baby. Ava’s first year was hard. She was sick more often than she was healthy and it was always more serious than a cold. I remember thinking, she’s not even in daycare yet. As my re-entry date come near, I got more and more nervous about going back to work. At this rate, I’d be missing a few days of work a week, paying for daycare I couldn’t use. I called one of my friends who was a stay-at-home mom. She listened to me for a long time and then gently asked, “Do you feel like you’re trying to hold onto something that you’re supposed to let go?” Tears pricked my eyes and streamed down my face as I croaked, “That’s exactly how I feel.”

As clear as it was, deciding to be a stay-at-home mom was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This wasn’t the plan. Those days of staying at home with my daughter were busy yet boring, lonely while never alone, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

We moved back to my hometown when Ava was fourteen months old and joined a 200-person small, but rapidly growing, church plant. Early one morning I e-mailed our pastors letting them know about my background and experience in ministry. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but I was willing to help in any way needed. They e-mailed back five minutes later wanting to meet with me as soon as possible. I’m back, I smiled.

I served as “volunteer staff,” my favorite oxymoron, for two years. My heart skipped a beat every time I saw “staff meeting” on my calendar. I had a title again and a real answer to the question, “What do you do?” at parties. I loved getting dressed up, using my mind, coming up with ideas that people liked, seeing immediate results and receiving accolades for a job well done. After staying home with a baby for 14 months, serving outside of the home felt GLORIOUS.

Shauna Niequist in her book Present Over Perfect describes my experience perfectly, “It’s easy to be more charming in a sales meeting than at witching hour, and it’s nice to feel competent at something… by ‘nice,’ I mean addictive.” She goes on to note, “It feels good to be good at something, to master something, to control something… what a lovely thing it is to be loved at your work, right? What a lovely and dangerous thing. What an easy escape into people who think you’re great and work that makes you feel valuable.” And, “It’s easy to be liked by strangers. It’s very hard to be loved and connected to the people in our home when you’re always bringing them your most exhausted self and resenting the fact that the scraps you’re giving them aren’t cutting it.”

This was me.

The home was hard.

The home was unpredictable.

The home was a baby and then two babies whose demands never ended and whose thank yous never came. I got addicted to doing things outside of the home and family. Every “yes” to outside things meant a “no” to my people, but I didn’t care. I got lost in my serving and I liked it. It was way more fun than folding laundry or scrubbing toilets or preparing yet another meal for someone to leave untouched.

Things at home started to fall apart, the way they tend to when neglected. The house was a mess. The kids watched too much TV so I could get some work done. Our own cupboards were often bare because I was too busy putting on catered events for new members of the church. My husband was starting to get angry and resentful after being repeatedly handed the kids as soon as he walked into the door from long shifts, so that I could run to yet another meeting. My priorities were out of whack. Something had to change.

My son was scheduled for surgery to correct a mild birth defect and something told me that if I didn’t put my family first at this crucial time, I might not have a family by the end of it; at least not an intact one. I did the unthinkable. I resigned from my beloved volunteer staff position. It felt like saying goodbye to Mariners all over again. I cried and cried.

At first it was freeing to only have to care for the family and home, the house ran smoothly, dinner was elaborately on the table by 5:30 pm, things were going really well. Then I got restless. I have God-given gifts, skills and talents I felt called to use outside of the home.

I’ve always loved to write and started a blog in August 2016. A couple months into it, editors of websites and magazines asked me to write articles for the sites and publications they oversee. Then churches and organizations asked me to speak at their gatherings. Now I run a freelance writing and speaking business. It’s been a wild ride and I’m loving it!

Beth Moore says, “You can’t do 1,000 things to the glory of God.”

Today my priorities, in order of importance are 1) God, 2) Husband, 3) Kids, 4) Home, 5) Personal development and physical health, 6) Business/ministry of writing, speaking, leading women towards Christ.

It’s a daily struggle not to get that list backward; but I’m committed, after learning the hard way, to putting first things first.


It’s Your Turn

Take a few minutes to think about your priorities:

  • Create a list of 4-6 personal priorities, in order of importance.
  • Make a list of activities or commitments that didn’t make the cut. Gracefully bow out of them this week. Let’s spend our days, and therefore our lives, doing what matters.

Kelly Russell is a writer and speaker. She earned a master’s degree in leadership from Denver Seminary and currently serves on the management team of Mission Church in Ventura, California. Connect with her at kellyshayrussell.com.

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