My kids decorated my room today. They called it an I Love Mom party. They had streamers, signs scratched on notebook paper, a homemade book, and baking soda tossed about the carpet as substitute confetti. All morning I heard rumblings of a surprise. My son jumped down from the counter, streamers tucked under one arm, just as I rounded the corner into the kitchen. A few minutes later, my daughter searched for me so she could announce, “Whatever you do, do NOT go into your room.” By the time they called, “Close your eyes and come back here!” I knew what was up. I’m so glad I did. It gave me enough time to ask for the eyes to see the love behind their actions, and not the mess I was certain they’d made of my room.
But as I walked in, what I saw was love and admiration and joy, plopped down on top of a mess of my own doing.
I saw my unmade bed, and beside it, the bathroom cabinet that crashed down earlier this summer, and is slowly morphing into another side table. I noticed the stack of clothes in the corner, not worn enough to be dirty. The novels and devotionals and journals, heaped in no order. They hadn’t made a mess of my room. My room was just a mess. And right on top, my children drew and strung and taped their love for me.
Lately, all of the beauty in my life shows up this exact way.
Several weeks ago, my family went to the beach. It was a hard, hard trip. Every other year my mom took all of her family to the beach, mostly because she loved to be around her grandkids having fun. My dad kept up the tradition this year, but this was my mom’s thing, and her absence was palpable. All week we walked through tears, grunts of frustration, and stifling, suffocating silence, layered over the total chaos of traveling with a lot of little kids. But in the middle of all of that mess, I stood at the edge of the ocean every day. I felt the steady pounding waves, and I watched my kids run toward them, throw themselves against the crash, then wash onto the shore. Every day, despite how hard it was to be there, I took in the smells and tastes and colors of the beach, and my children’s joy of throwing themselves into a force much bigger than all of us. I felt the beauty and love of Creation, dumped right on top of our mess of grief.
It lives in other places too: In the way my best friend ferociously, energetically dives into my kids’ routines at their whiniest, screaming-est, neediest times of day, offering love and grace to them and to me, both. I see it in the way the sun leans into the mountains and the whole world melds into pinks and oranges and grays at dusk, taking my breath away, no matter how exhausted I feel. In the way the oldest kids still want me to read out loud to them, knowing they could devour that book on their own, even though I’ve spent most of my day doling out consequences and reprimanding them. And I see it in the way I tap into God’s presence through meditation and silence and nature instead of Christian disciplines right now. Love just keeps showing up. It doesn’t make a mess, and it doesn’t clean mine up. It just plops down on top of everything else.
If I’m being honest, I don’t like mess. Let’s be clear: I don’t mind your mess. Your uncertainty, your vulnerability, your pain – I can sit comfortably in it. I will not judge or question your complicated beautiful life. But I want to have my own life in order at all times. I like to feel in control, put together. I want to be able to make a plan and stick to it. In your life, I can do whatever is needed. In mine, there are no X factors allowed.
But life doesn’t give me the chance to keep my act together. And in the past year I’ve learned I have to make a choice. Either I can spend all of my energy fighting the forces that create unpredictability, or I can put my energy into accepting life as it is, instead of how it should be. I can swing at the waves and curse them for crashing, or I can relax and wait until I wash back up, salty-eyed and exuberant. Because the same force that throws pain and uncertainty into my life also brings sunsets and beaches and best friends and Love. Every bit of it is in the same place, all scrambled together. Do I try to push it all back into submission? Or open myself up to it? If I can accept the mess, I can also receive the love piled on top.