i'll admit, i like things neat. i'm not over the top about it -- at least i don't think i am. don't ask my children - they'll only be tempted to lie. but i like order and organization. i have a thing for clean and tidy. i like a place for everything and everything in its place. the truth is, i just like to be able to find things.
in my house growing up, we were always searching for tape and scissors. it seemed we spent much of the 70's hunting for these two basic, desk drawer items. i am not sure our family ever wrapped a birthday gift which didn't first require a half-crazed goose chase for supplies. my mother always used a sharp steak knife to cut her wrapping paper. not that many years ago, she told me it was because she preferred this method. all along i had just assumed it was because she couldn't find the scissors. i suppose this is a chicken or egg kind of thing.
it won't surprise you to know that i have a ridiculous amount of tape and scissors stashed in my own home today. you'll find them scattered generously throughout each room. i have never counted, but am pretty sure i could easily tally up at least 25 pair of scissors and 10 rolls of tape on any given day. disturbing, i know. and what's more, i have to squash the urge to buy an additional roll or pair every time i pass the office product aisle at the grocery store or target. i even have scissors marked for special things. one pair has a tag declaring "material only." does that seem too direct? too inflexible? i am hoping so. anyone who works with fabric or ribbon knows once scissors are subjected to paper or wood or skin (yes, skin), they'll never cut well again.
i can't say anyone else in my house, though, is especially sensitive to this sharp issue. just this morning i found my "material only" scissors on the garage workbench with a telltale piece of black, duct tape stuck to the pristine pointed blade -- without a doubt, the work of my oldest son. total disregard for his mother's one simple request. apparently he couldn't find the "duct tape only" scissors.
so i've always kind of had these issues with neatness. and then God gave us five children. funny, huh? with the addition of each child i have watched my idol of order and cleanliness crumble. i mean it, crumble. crash. shatter. implode. i realized after about the third child, i would need to relinquish some of this control or i'd pretty much end up a lunatic hoarding scissors and tape and chasing behind children with paper towels and cleaning agents. out of necessity, and for the sake of sanity, i decided to bend a little.
Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is
like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing. ~ phyllis dillerbut there are times though when i want to corral all five of them in a room for a bit, just so i can clear off the counters. just so i can stare dreamily at those clean counters for five, lovely, uninterrupted minutes and not see cups and saucers and glue sticks and weaponry begin its multiplication process. it is not uncommon for me to finish the dishes, hang the towel over empty sink, put noodles away in the pantry and come back to the sink only to find 17 dirty items have appeared. the dirt in my house is like rabbits. dishes too -- like rabbits.
but what's the big deal about making a mess? life is messy. if it isn't, i'd have to imagine it kind of boring. it is in the times i have chosen to get my hands really dirty that i have felt the pulse of real living. a few years ago my daughter, emily, and i went to st. louis on a missions trip. we spent a week working with children in the inner city -- setting up programs and playing games and pushing them on swings. our time was hot and loud and sticky. many of these kids were starved for smiles and arms and affection. they curled up on our laps and clung to our necks without reservation.
one night we brought out bubbles and balloons and face paint. all of it was enjoyed, but the face paint, well, it just took the cake! little girl after little girl wanted us to draw butterflies and rainbows across her arm or cheek or leg. we painted balloons and smiley faces and kitty cats of every color. suddenly though, one percocious child decided to turn the game around and draw on us. she thought it would be fun to color our faces and arms. it only took one spunky girl, named elizabeth, to start this circus rolling, and before we knew it, we were green. i mean it, green.
and that night as we climbed into our church vans and drove back across town, the face paint began to dry and crack. we all began to itch and sweat under its smear. but we laughed looking at each other's faces. our painted facials glowing in the dashboard light. the whites of our eyes were brilliant and our lips looked like something from a saturday morning cartoon. we were all so altered. and that is it -- we were altered. driving home that night, after the laughter ended and the quiet began, i felt the tears slowly roll down my green cheeks. tear after tear came, thinking about the precious children we had left behind. those children who also became teary-eyed every evening when it was time for us to pull away. some of them so small. some of them returning to problems so big. my own tears streaming color down my cheeks softened the cracked surface of paint on my face -- green tears softening the cracked surface of my heart.
sometimes you have to get messy to make something beautiful.
"an immaculate house is a sign of a wasted life."
(well, sort of).