Stacy the guinea pig had lived a long, happy life. I, however, felt terrible. My husband and son were adventuring in Canada while I held down the fort at home. Not twenty-four hours into my solo parenting time, I began to feel the telltale signs of strep throat. You can only “mom” so well from the couch, which narrowed my goal to basic survival.
We were getting by on Pop-Tarts, PBS Kids, and amoxicillin when my daughter’s loud question woke me. “Why is Stacy so stiff?” My eyes popped open, and I was suddenly wide awake. The guinea pig was in her outstretched hands, inches from my face. Its arms were outstretched, too, in the final pose of obvious death. My daughter was four. I was sick, and Scott was off the grid in the Canadian wilderness. This was not the moment I had scripted for a serious discussion about death.
We found a Stacy-sized shoe box and then realized we faced a conundrum: burying her. She belonged to my son, who was gone, and it didn’t seem right to bury her without him home. My mind, in its drug-induced haze, offered only one solution. Put her, shoe box and all, in the deep freeze and wait for them to get home.
The boys came home, but life got away from us, and the little shoe box in the back of the deep freeze was forgotten. People usually laugh at this part of the story, imagining a guinea pig alongside our hamburgers and pork roasts. My brother-in-law had a different take. He contemplatively said, “Maybe a guinea pig in your freezer is a sign that your life is too busy.”
He was right. Nothing screams “Slow down!” more than a family pet whose burial continually gets bumped from the calendar. Our summer was busy beyond limits. Since that fateful time, however, I’ve learned to recognize the warning signs that life is moving too fast.
A guinea pig, aka basic life responsibilities, is on hold in the deep freeze.
We know the admonition of Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens. But we often forget the assumption that comes later in verse 5: “For each will have to bear his own load” (ESV). To have something to offer, we must manage our own loads first. A neglected list of basic maintenance jobs can take on a false aura of saintly self-sacrifice. It’s a dashboard warning light—a sign of skewed priorities that shows us we aren’t putting first things first.
You can’t remember the last family meal you had with real plates.
Studies correlate regular family meals with kids who grow up healthy and balanced. None of us would say our goal is to be too busy to allow that to happen, but it won’t happen unless you plan for it. You must take back family time from the jaws of American opportunity and a calendar that wants to take on a life of its own. Parents must be critical thinkers to determine which evening events deserve a yes. You might have to wake up your family at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast during soccer season to protect family moments, but don’t be afraid to be in charge. Be creative, and force the calendar to bend to your will.
Your kids haven’t slept until they wake naturally in a long time.
The psalmist says God gives his beloved sleep. He isn’t stingy with it. He doesn’t make us earn it. He gives it because we are beloved. A life that includes adequate rest from work, even good work, proves we trust God. It reminds us that our value is inherently found in his image reflected in us, never in our accomplishments. This kind of living builds a healthy self-image. Every holiday break, sleeping in is on our list of things to do.
We finally did give the guinea pig a proper burial. It’s become not only a favorite family story but also a vivid mental picture for me of our battle with time. Living in the land of opportunity requires regular wrestling matches with the calendar. Negotiating and working out solutions means we’re winning. It’s hard work to keep first things first and not give our family’s souls over to mindless yeses, but it also gives us more freezer space for ice cream!
Lori Florida’s life is all about her people. She’s convinced that being Mrs. to one and Mommy to eight will be her most significant way to serve Jesus. She wants to use her life to cheer on and coach the women coming behind her. Lori blogs at loriflorida.com.
Photograph © Bethany Beams, used with permission