I was lucky enough to earn my master’s degree at a presidential library. This alone was pretty amazing, but the icing on the cake was that this library’s namesake was still living and very much involved in “his” school. “41” (as we affectionally called him) walked our halls and participated in class discussions almost daily. President George H.W. Bush, Mrs. Bush, and their bevy of spaniels were familiar figures in my life, and for those two years, we all felt special.

One afternoon during a rather difficult econ lecture, President Bush walked in and sat down. He always sat in the back, with his secret service and his dog. He often raised his hand like a regular student, to ask if he might contribute (please, um, yes).

And despite our differing political views, personal opinions, social or economic perspectives, we would listen.

RELATED: At the End of Your Life, This is What Will Matter To Your Children

And on that particular day, the gods loved me because they allowed 41 to interrupt and essentially kill the dreadful economics lesson to impart a much more important one.

And it went like this:

We all know what it’s like to dump rocks into a bucket. We’ve all done the experiment at some point in our lives where you have a gallon of water and a bunch of different sized rockssome very big, some tiny pebbles. And the teacher tells you: if you put them in the bucket correctly, they will all fit AND when you pour the water in, none will spill out.

People always dump the pebbles in first. Every. Time. (Looking at each of us, in the eyeballs, like he was our grandfather, fussing.) Then they try to stuff the medium-sized rubble in, then finally, they pray the big rocks will fit. And let me assure you, from experience, they never do.

You must choose the big rocks first. You must pick them up, prioritize them, place them in the container ahead of everything else, THEN start filling in the leftover spaces with the little stuff. Only then, will they all fit and hold the water. Only then, will it make sense.

In life, you have to know what your big rocks are. You have to choose those first. If you don’t, if you forget who they are, or what they are, and then try to stuff them into your day, your week, your heart last . . . they won’t fit. And all you’ll be left with is the rubble that’s not important.

As you can imagine, I think of this all. the. time.

When I’m loading the dishwasher (big pots, first, Katie). When I’m thinking about my day and all that needs to happen (most important things, first, Katie). When I’m in a conversation with Steve and I’ve begun to feel angry or confused or discouraged (OK, what was my point? Big ideas first, Katie).

And then when I’m living this strange COVID reality, like all of you . . . what are my big rocks? Is it my kid’s writing assignment, uploaded perfectly with the correct font? Is it all clothes picked up, socks matched, chalk put away, counters wiped off? Is it the living list of “wishes”—toilet paper, canned beans, ham steak, Clorox wipes—that stays taped to my kitchen cabinet and doesn’t change much, only causing me stress and worry?

RELATED: Love Them Harder

It’s not. It’s none of those things. Those are all important, for sure. They cannot be denied or forgotten. But. They are NOT what I’d choose first to put in my bucket. At least, they better not be. I better not get confused or distracted about my priorities, for I think, my sanity and my family depend on me choosing wisely.

Mental health. Laughter. Sugar. Bike rides. Affection. Friends. Coffee. Compassion. Forgiveness. Support. Conversations. These are my big rocks lately.

What are yours?

Previously published on the author’s blog

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Katie Gale

Hi. :) I'm Katie, and I'm a wife, mom and, what I refer to as a "human in training." I tell my kids all the time we're all just trying, every day, to be the best human we can be! And that means we're in lifelong training. I write and feature stories primarily about being a good human, motherhood, design, friendships and what my family calls "the high, low, and unexpected" of every day. I live in Boise, ID with my husband, children, and two Labradoodles. Steve is currently fighting COVID-19 (he's a trauma surgeon), so we don't see him much, but the kids and I are surviving on Zoom meeetings, boxed cake, and lots (and lots) of bike rides!

To the Extended Family That Shows Up: We Couldn’t Do This Without You

In: Kids, Living, Motherhood
Family visiting new baby in a hospital room

This picture—my heart all but bursts every time I see it.  It was taken five years ago on the day our daughter was born. In it, my husband is giving her her very first bath while our proud extended family looks on. It was a sweet moment on a hugely special day, but gosh–what was captured in this photo is so much more than that. This photo represents everything I could have ever hoped for my kids: That they would have an extended family who shows up in their lives and loves them so deeply.  That they would have grandparents,...

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Tell a Couple Trying to Conceive to Just Relax

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Black-and-white photo of medical supplies

This is a plea. A plea to those who know someone who is struggling with infertility. So, if you’re reading this, this is directed right to you. Please, for the love of everything, when someone tells you they are struggling to conceive, do not tell them to “just relax.” I know it’s the cliche, default term most blurt out because they don’t know what else to say. It’s awkward to discuss for some. I’m 10000% positive it is coming from a good place and is meant to be calming and reassuring, and you really do believe it’s true because a...

Keep Reading

My Husband Having a Stroke at 30 Wasn’t in Our Plans

In: Faith, Living
Husband and wife, selfie, color photo

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV) This verse in the book of Jeremiah has long been a favorite of mine. In fact, it’s felt relevant across many life events. Its simple, yet powerful reminder has been a place of solace, perhaps even a way to maintain equilibrium when I’ve felt my world spinning a bit out of control. In this season of starting fresh and new year intentions, I find great comfort in knowing...

Keep Reading

That Mom at the Playground Could Become Your Best Friend

In: Friendship, Motherhood
Young mother sitting on bench looking at playground

I didn’t realize I was that mom at the playground. That mom who always smiles at the other moms even if she doesn’t know them. That mom who often makes small talk while she pushes her toddler on the swings. That mom who strikes up a conversation while sitting on the bench watching her older kid play. That mom who can often tell whether you are interested in talking to her or not. And if you don’t seem interested, that’s okay. Because maybe you’re preoccupied with other things going on in your life right now. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with the...

Keep Reading

The Shattering Grief of Suicide

In: Grief, Living, Loss
Sad person sitting in darkened hallway, black and white image

Navigating through my second Christmas without my dad, the weight of grief seemed even heavier this year. In fact, everything felt and looked different to me. As I unwrapped the ornaments and cards he gave me over the years, a tidal wave of madness and sadness engulfed me. I know many feel sadness and grieve during these times, but let me just say . . . suicide is a different type of grief. My vibrant, happy, physically fit dad committed suicide on April 30th, 2022. There, I said it. In the aftermath, a myriad of emotions consumed me. One perplexing...

Keep Reading

“I Can’t Do This Anymore,” He Said—Then Everything Changed

In: Living, Marriage
Woman with head in hands

The questions are very much valid. Did I know when I married him? Did I know when we struggled with infertility and trying to become parents? Did I know when we unexpectedly became pregnant with our second child? When did you know your husband was an alcoholic? The answer is simple yet so complex, I pretty much knew from the first year, yet I was in complete denial. When I met him, he was just my type—a bad boy with a bad reputation, yet so cute! On our third date or so, I saw how much he could drink and how...

Keep Reading

Mean Girls Aren’t Like the Ones You See In Movies

In: Friendship
Woman whispering in another woman's ear

Mean girls aren’t like Regina George. If they were, it would be easy to know to stay away from them. Not all mean girls are wealthy, image-conscious, stick-thin blondes. They also don’t always have the reputation of being “mean girls.” The problem is that mean girls are way worse than Regina George because they don’t look like mean girls. Mean girls can be your “friends.” Mean girls know how to gain and betray your trust. They are the girls who, on a rough day, ask you what’s going on not because they care about you, but so they can have...

Keep Reading

My Husband’s in Love with a Different Woman Now

In: Living, Marriage, Motherhood
Couple standing by Christmas decorations

He’s in love with a different woman now . . . I met my husband seven years ago. We got married and went on adventures. Went to some weddings and had a bunch of kids. Every Christmas party season, we would celebrate by going out to dinner . . . except this year that one dress didn’t fit. I had my husband try to zip it, and then my mom . . . there was no budging. I had been tiny, I had been heavy—sick and healthy. My weight had been a roller coaster always. But, this special dress had always...

Keep Reading

Sweet Commercial About A Dad and Daughter Reconnecting Over Taylor Swift Has Us Teary

In: Motherhood, News, Teen, Tween
father and daughter cuddled up on the couch watching football

It’s hard for any girl dad to imagine a time when his daughter will stop wanting to spend time with him. But seemingly overnight, she can go from a devoted daddy’s girl to a prickly, detached teen who is much more interested in what’s happening on her phone than hanging out with her old man. Suddenly it can feel like there is no common ground between them, and shared interests are few and far between. But this NFL season has been different for football-loving dads and their Swiftie daughters. A heartwarming commercial from Cetaphil with the tagline, “A New Sports...

Keep Reading

I Hope You Never Know What it’s Like to Forget Who You Are

In: Grief, Living, Loss
Woman staring at camera, black-and-white photo

I write best when I’m passionate. It’s always been my release. But lately, I’ve struggled to write. I’ve struggled to find purpose in my words. It’s all been twisted and choppy, not a bit poetic or beautiful. These feelings are what the struggles of loss, parenting, work, and marriage push against. It’s finding yourself over and over again and trying to make sense of the senseless. It leaves you questioning most things and leaves you feeling broken with no idea how to put yourself or others back together. I hope you never know. I hope you never know what it’s...

Keep Reading