02 Sep 2014

A Life and Death To-Do List

I knew a woman who was diagnosed with leukemia the year she turned 40.

She died two years later.

I turned 40 last week.

And that woman was my mother.



If I had two years left to live what would I do with them?

If my days were numbered and my breath all counted out, what would be on my life and death to-do list?

Would I waste it on comparing someone else’s life to mine?

Or would I spend it lavishing delight on the ways God builds His Kingdom through my sisters.

I hope I’d have them all over for tea. Every other Tuesday.




I’d dig deep into that peach and blueberry cobbler that Rose made without worrying about counting calories. I’d count the gift of each delicious bite prepared with love for me instead.

I’d push pause on my busy and get down on my knees and play dollhouse with my miniature daughter.

I’d twirl her curls around my finger and agree with her that yes, we are “best fwends forever.”

I’d open my eyes real wide and witness the “interruptions” with less irritation and more compassion.

I’d do forts in the living room and blankets piled high across the sofa without sighing and tapping my toe on an expiration date for the mess.

I’d do life – right there where the dishes can wait and the laundry can go unfolded.

I’d do baseball games and late night conversations under the comforter with my nine-year-old son. I’d say, “yes,” to cuddling through nightmares, “yes” to her “just one last hug, mama”, “yes” to his request for yet another back rub.

I’d dial back my busy and lean into slow.

I’d sit out on the front steps more often and care less about what my hair looked like.

I’d make time for the people on my street – take time for learning what conversations linger behind their closed front doors. I’d take time to talk less about me and more about them.

I’d let Micah make those chocolate chip cookies all by himself.

I’d run because I like to feel this body grow strong. Not because I was obsessed with it growing skinnier.

I’d be generous.

I’d forgive more, love wider, listen longer.

I’d revel in Sunday afternoon naps with Peter. Dreams and heartbeats beneath the soft, gray sheets. I would tell him all my secrets. And let him in. I’d believe that I am his beloved.

I’d give up being afraid in favor of being present.

I wouldn’t care how neatly the stuffed animals were lined up in the boys’ room, or whether or not Zoe put her clothes properly back on the shelf.

I’d be determined to pass on my stories to my kids – to imprint on their memories how I loved them, how I wanted them, how I chose them.

But I wouldn’t shelter them.

I’d talk to them about life and death and the wild wonder of a God who calls us home. Who doesn’t just wait at the door but comes running wildly down the road to get us.

I’d tell them all my Jesus stories. Especially the hard ones full of doubt.

And then I’d wrap them in my arms so hard they could barely breathe and assure them this is how Jesus loves us – especially on our crabby days.

I’d make Pete melktert every time he craved one.

I’d clean the bathroom because it meant I have kids who make it messy. Boys with terrible aim and terribly tender hearts who make it impossible to resent them when I’m too busy feeling grateful for them.


And I’m sure I’d still lose my temper some days, but maybe, “sorry” would slip off my lips quicker.

And I’m sure we wouldn’t get it all right, but we’d remember what was worth getting right.

I’d snap all those measuring sticks that dictate jean size, and significance, and voice and dreams and passions and what makes a mother able to “have it all” right down the middle. I’d crack wide open the doubts that whisper that there’s a one-size fits all work in God’s great Kingdom.

I’d follow Him down back roads into the places He’s called me to serve. Without measuring their impact or cool factor first.

I’d still love books but I’d spend more time reading together instead of hoarding my alone time.

I’d keep my bedroom door open more. I’d offer second, third, ninth, eleventy-nine second chances.

I’d believe that one mom can make a difference in the eternities of her kids.

I’d make a list with their names on it and stick to it.

And we’d delight in giving away – ourselves, our time, our energy, our dreams.

We’d be generous together. We wouldn’t be afraid to look foolish.

We’d dance.

Right up until the end.

We’d dance right off the edge of the to-do list.

Like a mother I once knew who ran out under cover of a rainstorm and danced on a wild karoo farm garden until her children couldn’t resist and ran out into the joy with her, heads tilted back and mouths open to the wonder.


She might be buried in the big veld vlakte behind that garden now —

but we have none of us forgotten how to dance.





{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Oh friend. My heart. I needed this today–I needed to remember that these days are short, and the years pile up too quickly before it all blows away in a single breath. Thank you.

    Love you.

  2. 2

    So, so beautiful, Lisa-Jo!

  3. 3
    Julie Reynolds says:

    Your words bless me so…. Thank you! I am sure your mother is so proud of you! YES!! I want to say yes to the slow and leave behind the hurry because I did not when my children were littles but I can now for that handsome grandson. Thanks for the reminder Lisa-Jo. You and your words are a gift.

  4. 4

    My father died at 46 of leukemia and as I near that age I often go through a similar mental list. You were able to put so eloquently what I try to remind myself to do. Thank you.

  5. 5

    This was so wonderful. It also made me wish I wasn’t an empty nester with my children grown and gone- I would have loved on them harder and all those magical things you said. When my children were young (4 & 1) I had a scare with death and I did do a lot of those things, but then a miracle of grace and healing …and I eventually got in the way of my being/doing/living/loving them more. But. GOD. AND. GRACE. Those two overflowed in my life in a big way and we’re doing alright. My kids know they are fiercely loved and passionately cheered for every day!
    Thanks for the challenge and the memories you brought back to me.

  6. 6

    Happy Belated Birthday!! :) I’m so glad God created you!!
    I’m also glad that you have found reasons to celebrate today, each day, as if it were being counted (because it is!) and each breath, each word, matters so much (to someone)!
    Breathe in the goodness of each day! He has ordained you to be here (and me) and we can’t live in the “last times…” – those moments of saying “this might be the last time we…” – I did that each time my daughter prepared to leave for her foreign soil again… (“last time at the table, sitting in church beside her, eating an ice cream cone…”) …seriously, not a fun way to make the most of those days! MUCH better to celebrate each one for the memory it brings… You’re so much smarter than I was then…

  7. 7

    “I’d talk to them about life and death and the wild wonder of a God who calls us home. Who doesn’t just wait at the door but comes running wildly down the road to get us.”

    What an achingly beautiful piece.

    My mother was 24 when she died. As 24 approached, I didn’t know how I could continue living. My father was 34. And when 34 approached, living seemed even more impossible. Then I became ill and had to fight for my life and living became the gift my parents had given me, the gift God has given me, the gift God had me seize with with strength I didn’t know I had because He wasn’t calling me home. He was making me stronger and shooing me out to strengthen others.

    I love the image of your mother dancing in the rain with her children. What a glorious gift she gave you. And now you give it to your children and all of us. Thank you so much. Your writing really blesses me. You make me stronger.

  8. 8

    Oh, Lisa-Jo – I am so grateful for your words. They always lift and comfort and inspire and hug me until I feel as though I’m going to burst.

    I am STILL struggling with that toe-tapping, expiration date, fort mess-making issue… But somehow when I read your words I just know it’s all gonna be ok. ;)

  9. 9

    Lisa-Jo, this is just about the most perfect piece of writing I’ve ever read, because it reached me just as I needed to hear your tender and beautiful, oh-so-beautiful, words. Thank you so, so, much. You will never know how much this meant to me, to read this today xxx

  10. 10

    you have touched me to tears. beautiful post, so truthful. Thank you for this, and the gentle reminder to live fully.

  11. 11

    I loved this. There is so much more to life and sometimes we get so busy we forget. I read this with a little snuggly boy wrapped up in my arms. He won’t be little forever so I’ll savor this. :)

  12. 12

    Beautiful truth…and so convicting in the best way possible!!

  13. 13

    It is incredible how much I can relate to this post. I recently wrote about the same thing on my blog when I turned 39. My aunt, who was like my mother, was diagnosed with cancer right after her 40th and went to be with the Lord before she turned 43. I love how you wrote this! Such a wonderful reminder to live each day to the fullest and let the little things go. Thank you – I am blessed by reading this!

  14. 14

    Beautiful post, Lisa Jo. Your words massaged my heart. Thank you.

  15. 15

    Uh-Mazing! So puts things in perspective. I was 21 when my mom died. She was 41. I’m 32 now, and realize soon that I will have “out-lived” my mother. It’s happy (that I’m still kicking), sad (because she’s not here), and a whole host of other emotions. This is a great reminder to pay attention to the things/people that really matter.

  16. 16

    Oh to dance and embrace the time that we are given… Thank you for the gracious reminder that what we have is now.

  17. 17

    Oh, sweetheart! This is one of your very best, ever. And that is saying something. Happy belated birthday – don’t know how I missed it, but I did. So very glad you were born. (I’m giving away copies of your book to the new moms at our church. . . 4 so far. Perfect gift!)

  18. 18

    Just beautiful Lisa.

    Yesterday I chose an impromptu living room picnic with my two little girls over the dishes, the start of school paperwork and the laundry. I do not regret one minute of it.

    I especially love the pictures of you and your Mother. How much her love for you is shining through her smile. What beauty!

  19. 19

    Your writing always touches me deeply. Deeply Inside. Where my soul lies waiting to be released fully into the day. Thank you.

    At the start of this year, the year that I would turn 50, as I spilled forth my long list of all that I wanted the year to be and poured over all the lists of the past decade, I asked myself “If I know what I want my life to look like, why am I not living it?” Thank you for the reminder.

  20. 20

    Thank you. thank you. thank you. My days with 5 between 14 and 21, trying to help them figure it out when I haven’t figured it out, has me grumpy and counting the hours. My mother didn’t live that way. She reminded me to live–fully alive. She’s gone. I’d forgotten . Thank you. thank you. thank you. for reminding me.

  21. 21

    This is tremendous! It made me stop and think of all the things I’d do if I only had two years. I’d paint some pictures for sure.
    My mom died of leukemia when she was 73 when she died and I am only 60, so it’s definitely not the same as yours. But she taught me to ‘dance’ also and I was blessed to call her mother.

  22. 22

    Your love for your Mum, your kids and HIM flows through your words. Thanks do much for sharing with us, helping remind us to LIVE in the moment and enjoy our kids, even on “those” days when everything seems a challenge.

    My mum is now 81, and after a severe stroke now in a nursing home no longer able to speak or walk, but it is a joy and a privilege to sit and hold her hand, sharing memories with her.

    Your words (as always) touch my heart and my conscience and we have your Mum to thank for that as well as you :)

    What an amazing record of your love for your mum and your kids your writing will be.

    Hugs and prayers for you and yours as God uses you to bless many other mums and kids.

  23. 23

    Thanks Lisa-Jo for your inspirational words and your honesty. I so agree with your sentiments. My son is 18 and about to finish school. While I spent as much time as I could with him when he was younger, those days ended far too quickly.

    Mooi bly.

  24. 24

    Thank you for reminding me of all those things, but mostly that I am not alone. I was never alone. My mother died the day before my 16th birthday, suddenly, at home. For years all I did was survive life. struggled through life and hated my birthday. Now 52 with a daughter 26 and another who just turned 17, life zipped by so fast.
    Thanks for the post!

  25. 25

    Thank you for writing this! It really touched not only my heart, but soul. I am often afraid of illness and my children losing me too early. So many hardships have happened I kind of wait for the other shoe to drop…but oh, what a great reminder on a day when I feel like I am losing at being a great mom to just love and enjoy today with them. Thank you so much for writing today!

  26. 26
    Carol Bruce says:

    Marvelous of you to share this message of your own life learning experience. It touches the heart and makes one feel that there is time and hope to be grateful and aware of the many blessings we have been given instead of looking for those we feel are missing. Carpe Diem.

  27. 27

    Read Overwhelmed by Bridgid Schulte- we don’t have to wait until we are dying to simplify our lives and put down our to-do lists.


  1. […] A Life and Death to-do List: Lisa Jo Baker […]

  2. […] This post from Lisa-Jo Baker. That woman, she’s got a way with the […]

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