Making Friends With Mess {a favorite repost from the archives}

mess Collage

I would die of shame if you came to my house right now.

But because y’all tell me that you love it when I show pictures of my real home and I’m feeling extra generous today, here’s a gift: photos of my crazy house. You’re welcome.

The garage looks like it threw up into my kitchen.


Stacks of folded laundry have been patiently waiting to be put away but the boys’ closet is so full of wadded-up clothes that putting the laundry in the drawers means first clearing a path through a mountain of dirty clothes and super-hero costumes.


Dishes and dirty pots continue to breed in the kitchen even though I run the dishwasher every day.


The hallway is lined with stuff to put….somewhere.


The driveway and side yard have been littered for four days with junk from the garage that my littlest guy configured into a bakery.

This is obviously a bakery.

My lamp broke. Again.


And my threadbare sofa cushion finally ripped.


Much of this mess is kind of my fault.

I decided to clean out the garage a couple of days ago and what I thought would take a few hours is actually going to take a few days. Story of my life. At 5:00 yesterday, dinner came ’round like she always does, mocking me with her demanding daily-ness. I was covered in garage dust, had not a single clear spot on my counter, and felt the weariness of the day begin to wash over me. My husband was teaching late so I was shouldering the evening’s responsibilities by myself. I considered the very messy, disorganized state of affairs and contemplated running away.

Much as it pained me, I left the undone garage for the next day, rolled up my sleeves, and jumped into dinner prep. I stacked up all the dirty, soaking dishes and got busy, knowing that cooking would only add to the mess but also knowing that my kids needed dinner and that my hard-working husband would be starving when he got home.

In the midst of so much chaos and undone-ness, I was making more mess. But I was also choosing life. Real life.

Mess is my enemy. My Myers-Briggs type is INFJ. That “J” means that I’m a fan of order. It means my orientation to the outer world is one of structure and decidedness. Sure, I have a rogue spontaneous and creative streak that threatens to keep the order at bay on any given day but generally speaking, I appreciate a certain level of environmental peace to be able think and work and breathe.

But yesterday? There was not an ounce of order to be found anywhere. I felt the familiar anxiety rise up from within and I knew I had a choice: I can give in to the freak-out and run around like a lunatic subduing my tiny world so that I can make dinner in a more peaceful environment OR I can just make the soup in the midst of too much mess, do what I can about the dirty dishes, still read to the kids before bed and know that I’ll slowly but surely catch up on the rest throughout the week. And if life interrupts and I don’t get to the rest of the mess like I want to, well, so be it. That’s why God made wine.

As surely and quickly as I processed these thoughts and resolved to soldier on, I realized that the wildfire mess spreading throughout my home mirrored the deeper stuff of hope and perseverance and choosing life even when it’s falling apart. I considered these things as I stirred the loveliest soup in my dirty kitchen.

Mess, both the literal kind and the less tangible kind, has always felt like the worst kind of adversary. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m a recovering perfectionist, a lover of order, a pursuer of the ideal, a romantic dreamer, a chaser of expectation. When I was younger, I really thought that all of my big sparkly dreams would come true. I did. And I figured that if I just did all of the right things and worked really hard and married the right person, we’d live in the Kingdom of Perfect happily ever after.

But Mess came calling again and again. Despite my best efforts to clean him up, smother him with a cute throw pillow, deny that he existed, and fist-fight him out of my life, Mess kept walking through the back door, dirtying up my house and toying with my life and blasting my little Kingdom of Perfect to smithereens before I could even finish building it. The nerve.

Over many years and through a myriad of circumstances I could have never predicted, I gradually befriended Mess. I’ve learned that he’s not the enemy. Without Mess, I’d still be chasing Perfect and kicking Grace to the curb.

I’d think I was better than I really am.

I’d believe that my sweet life had everything to do with my sweet effort and stellar performance.

I’d think judgmental thoughts about addicts and squanderers and cheaters and anyone who just couldn’t get it together.

I’d have no use for those who’d made epic fails.

I’d have no reason to receive grace and forgiveness for my own epic fails.

Mess has taught me that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between any of us and that self-righteousness is more insidious that in-your-face sin.

Mess has shown me that I can’t get it together. And also? Why is “getting it together” the goal? I don’t even like people who have it all together.

Mess has reminded me that Jesus did not come for those who are well; He came to heal and befriend and live among the sick and lowly. That’s code for messy people. And in case you’re wondering, I’m in the latter group. So are you. But you may not know it yet.

Mess has grown compassion where there used to be puffed-up pride, has allowed me to enter into the dark and embarrassing places in others’ lives because I’ve been there and it takes one to know one.

Mess continues to teach me that the worst circumstances may ironically give way to a better life. Not a perfect life, but a real one. A redeemed one.

It’s a crossroads I seem to return to time and again. I can wait until things are all better and tidied up before I really start to live. Or I can survey my very imperfect life like I survey the ridiculous disarray of my house.

And as it turns out, one can make a beautiful and delicious pot of soup in a really messy kitchen.

If your own life is looking particularly messy at the moment, here are some related posts from the last couple of years about living real in the midst of mess:


As I mentioned Tuesday, I’m reposting from the archives this week. With a writing deadline right around the corner, I’m reissuing a couple of my favorites. Apparently my new blog doesn’t like the formatting of my old posts so my photos and spacing are wonky. I’ve given up trying to fix it…which means I’m keeping with the theme of the post and publishing messy, imperfect material anyway.

I’ll dish up a “Treat Yourself” post for the weekend and be back with fresh material next week.



  1. mom says

    So, so penetrating to my heart and soul, honey. Thanks for taking time to “dig out” something from the archives. See, you are organized!!!


  2. says

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  3. says

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