Like most people, I like to think my home is a mix of small but pretty spaces and contained pockets of livable disaster.
I call it comfy chaos.
It’s the livable disaster part that always seems to spread like a virus throughout all the house for the vast majority of the time though. And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. But I look around at the dishes stacked on TOP of the dishwasher instead of in, and the months worth of mail and library books cohabitating, and the dog hair that magically keeps showing up in every corner no matter how much we keep begging the dog to stop shedding, and the sea of chaos gives me heart palpitations. And I don’t even have gaggles of small children to blame it on.
And we try. The benefit of having older kids is they can do a lot of chores themselves, and the hubby does laundry like a pro. But it just keeps coming. And let’s face it, I probably not much help. Between my mood disorder and the fact that I’m a no holds barred creative, organization and spotlessness will never be my strong suit.
That doesn’t stop me from getting stressed about it all some days, and wish some magic house fairy would just wave her wand and WHAM… paradise. And some days, it’s enough to make me want to give up completely and run for my life, and some days it’s enough to cause me to spiral into one of my mood jags because I feel so ineffective.
I think about my elderly neighbour next door. In our almost 12 years as neighbours, I never seen anything out of place in her house. It’s spotless. It’s sweet. It’s organized. When you step into her home, you drool. Just a little bit. Surfaces shine. Windows cast light into hairless corners. Nary a speck of dust or escaped lonely sock wandering free. I have asked her if she wants a room-mate. She gave me a weird look. I guess that’s a no, but I’ll see.
So what happens yesterday but there I am at home, working on finishing a project, trying to get some writing in, some social networking, throwing a cheaters lunch of pre-made salad and little pizza in the oven and trying to find space on the crowded countertop for my plate while the dog hoovers up crumbs (the ONLY bonus of having a dog who is perpetually starving is that you never have crumbs on the floor. Or anywhere. Crumb on your shirt front? She’ll lean in and hoover it off you before you can say Bob’s your uncle) and my sweet little neighbour picks that moment to knock at the back door to drop something off.
My first impulse was to hide, and then clean my house like no one’s business, or at least the spot around the back door, and then it’d be ready for when she came back later! But I was pretty sure the fact that she waved through the screen door at me meant she still has her excellent vision.
So I opened the door and did what every person does when we’re caught being imperfect for a moment. I began our conversation with profuse apologies. “Trudy, I’m so sorry you have to see the house like this! You know how it is, some of us are just lousy housekeepers. I’ve been swamped with, ummm, stuff, and not feeling great, and well, I’ll get to it tonight… so just try to shield your eyes from the disaster that is my house and I’ll pay for whatever kind of therapy you’ll have to go for after seeing all this.”
But instead of running for the hills and disowning us permanently, she sat down in the nearest kitchen chair and laughed in her strong German accent and dismissed me with a wave. And she said something I needed reminded of. Something I forgot.
I said don’t I know it, and that was the problem, but then she clarified. She thought it was wonderful. She wanted to sit in the middle of it and visit and drink it in for a minute. Signs of family life were in evidence everywhere. She explained how she missed the signs of everyday life, of kids, of partners, of school papers and laundry everywhere, and happy pets and happy busy people. Of dishes piled and people eating together. Sharing together.
It’s the perfect evidence of life. And she has the perfect house with floors I’m pretty sure you could eat off of but sadly, it’s just her. Oh, she’ll tell you she’s still busy living, and she has a huge family that loves her to pieces scattered hither and yon, but it’s just her in that house.
And we always want what we think someone else has, without understanding fully what it would mean if we had it.
And that’s what I had lost underneath the piles of waiting laundry and dishes. My family was healthy, happy for the most part, safe, and living life, dirty socks and all.
She left a little while later, and her words stayed. I could spend every minute making sure the house was spotless and feeling awful every time it didn’t, which was a lot. Or, I could spend my feeling awful time on things that mattered a whole lot more.
Two little words that shifted my perspective.
We have stuff we want to clean up and dress up and hide away. We have things we’re not proud of. We have things that make us afraid to embrace the day because there might be too much out of our control.
Meanwhile, life is motoring on by. And you can wave at it as it marches on by, or you can get in on the parade, dust bunnies and all.
Psalm 103:2 puts it to us pretty plainly. It says, “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.“
Lord, don’t let us forget what really matters today. You’ve done good things for us, every day, each day you’re faithful in big things and small. So we look across the stacks of dishes and praise you for family that comes home each night for dinner together, we look at the fridge covered three layers deep in post-its and recipes and photos and praise you for loved ones near and far, and each time we see work boots layered in sawdust, and chisels and brushes on the table next to boat paraphernalia and whatnot, we praise you for employment and provision.
Let all that I am praise Him says the scripture. That includes the mounds of clutter and signs of life. That includes the next load in the dishwasher being replaced by another instantly. That includes emails and brooms and christmas ornaments that never made it back to the basement yet. All that we are can praise Him.
Think about it next time you want to raise a fist to the chaos. They’re signs of all He’s given.