(Don’t) Clean up Your Mess

Hey, what’s wrong with messes? We look great, right?

The more I live with people instead of just coexisting in proximity, the more I recognize something—there are a of of messed up people out there. Even more messed up than I am. Yes, true story.

The other thing I’ve come to recognize is that being messed up is not necessarily a bad thing. Neat lives are often a sign of lives so carefully curated that they are museum dioramas, not lives. And the thing about museum dioramas? They’re full of dead things. Stuffed dead things. This is not appealing to most of us as an environment.
A little bit of mess signals a life that’s lived in, like a couch with graham cracker crumbs welded to the underside of the cushions. That life has taken risks, known joy, and has the stains to prove it. Some messes are dangerous, toxic spills that needs to be cleaned up out of our lives. But others? We need them to prove we’re alive.
I never wanted or imagined the mess of a loved one with mental illness and attendant self-destructive behavior. Given the choice, I’d have picked the carefully curated life. Having chosen that, I would have missed out on a lot that has made me alive.
I had no idea I was living amid dead things.
Sometimes messes just mean something better is coming.

Because of that experience, I’ve been able to share a lot with people whose lives are broken in various ways, and similar variations on a theme keep returning. It’s hard. It hurts. But we have learned so much. When you’re in the slime and mud of the mess, though, you really want to know what exactly people have learned. What could possibly make this worthwhile? What could anyone tell me to make me appreciate this wrenching time of uncertainty?

I’m not sure. I suspect that when people are slogging through those times is not always the best opportunity to offer sage advice. Most of us aren’t ready to hear it when the pain is shrieking louder than the wisdom. But people ask. What do you find out about life, and yourself, when your world is a mess? How do you even survive?
The answer to the second question is easy: God’s grace and insistent love. Nothing more or less.
The answer to the first could go on a while. But here are a few thoughts.

I learned that grace was a choice I didn’t make often enough. 

I had theoretically believed in grace, but operationally, I extended it mostly to those who didn’t look like they needed it. For those with rough edges and incomprehensible, annoying behavior? Maybe when they got themselves together. My reality of grace was not even close to God’s dream of it for me. I had no idea that grace looked a lot more like hugging a drug addict than praying for lunch at Panera.
Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)


I never understood that before. I didn’t really want to. Now, I don’t want anything else.

I learned that love is always a good thing to decide. 

You might get hurt. You will be taken advantage of. But love reserved for those who deserve it and won’t tamper with it is not love at all. It’s a calculated investment. CS Lewis said, To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”
I didn’t understand that until I had to choose to love not only my loved one in a mess but the people it brought into our lives. It seemed God put them there despite what I wanted, so the only real choice was to love them. And they did, indeed, break my heart. But broken hearts are the best kind for letting others inside.   . God’s dream for me was to lavish unconditional love, as He did. My reality had been fearful half loving.

I learned to honestly believe that He loves us. 

He loves our messes. Really.
He can handle them.

Driving with a loved one to a potential prison sentence is about as messy as it gets. Until in the middle of praying you hear those words on the radio, “If His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking; oh, how He loves us so.” And you realize for perhaps the first, or at least the most profound, time that they are true. Not just for you but for the person sitting next to you. And all those other persons out there who have messes in their lives and need that grace like an ocean. He loves. Beyond our imagination.

He takes care of the messes, beyond our imagination. All the worries and terrors and anxieties about them do nothing helpful, while putting the mess in His hands and leaving it there always does. Because He Loves are the most needed and true words you will ever hear, and they are bedrock when life feels more like a mudslide than a picnic.
I don’t know if you’re feeling messy right now, and I don’t know if it helps to be told those things. Maybe you have to learn them yourself in the fire. I think, though, that at least it helps to know someone else has been in that mess, and it has not won.
Something better is still coming.
We still have not finished this mess.

Have you seen the sign some people hang in their kitchen that reads “God Bless This Mess”? Yeah. That’s about right. Ask Him to. He will.

I’m Not Tolerant

Kids don’t need to be told how to do this.
On November 16, the UN urges people worldwide to celebrate and observe the UN International Day for Tolerance. The point? To foster understanding and education between peoples of different origins. (That’s my summary, not theirs.)
While I love the idea of celebrating differences, I’m not so sure of the name. I know tolerance has become the buzzword of the 2000‘s. If you’re not tolerant? You’re a bigoted, uneducated jerk. Basically. That’s the edited version. Whose version of tolerant? Well, it depends. To steal from Orwell, it does appear some people are more tolerable than others.
But I refuse to be tolerant.
Tolerance” is such a feeble word. I tolerate creaky knees. I tolerate cold weather and slow checkout lanes and JW’s at my door. (Although to be honest, I usually hide from them.) I don’t love any of those. I don’t even like them very much.
You know how the online dictionary defines tolerance?

To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference. To accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.”
Tolerance only asks that I endure you. I can continue to dislike you intensely, but if I deal with you like I would a root canal, I’m a good person. As long as I allow your existence, I’m on moral high ground. You see what a weak ideal we’re celebrating here?
Now, I realize that allowing someone else’s existence would be a significant step up for people like ISIS. It’s a steep enough goal if you’re the UN, so what they’re doing is great. But for most of us? I’d like to think we could aim higher.
Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Pray for your enemies.” He told stories of racial strife healed by a Samaritan salving a man’s wounds and putting him on a donkey. He rebuked the unjust treatment of women by refusing to throw a stone at one.
Then he showed us how it was done by forgiving those who murdered him even as they cheered about it. That “Father forgive them” was not an act of tolerance. It was a declaration of love.
It was a gauntlet thrown down in the name of a new Kingdom where love, not mere tolerance, would reign. It was a challenge for his followers to take up.
In contrast to tolerance, witness the definition of what Jesus meant when he told us to love our neighbor.
Agapeis selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. The essence of agape is self-sacrifice.” 

That doesn’t sound like the kind of feeling I’d have toward a root canal.
The day we, literally, sat down for tea with a Chinese communist.
And we had a great time.
I have a challenge. Skip the tolerance. Go right to the love. Put away the name calling, the labeling, the Facebook posts about “those people” and how dumb they must be. Stow your “right” to be angry and your certainty that yours is the only reasonable outlook.
Sit down for tea with someone you disagree with on however many levels. Someone from a very different background. Not to argue. Not to convince him or her you’re right. Just to talk. Mostly to listen. See if you can’t hammer out more than a simple tolerance by the time you’re done. I’m serious about this—do it. This is not just a theoretical challenge.
If those who claim to have accepted Jesus’ declaration of love for themselves cannot, read that will not, lavish it as unconditionally as He did, we’re not even tolerating. We’re just plain failing. Fortunately for us, he just keeps offering that love, and power, to improve our record. 
I need that power. I fail at the love thing. I need power every day to turn away from what I think I deserve and how right I think I am toward “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love.” But tolerance? I want to fail at that. I don’t want to endure those with whom I disagree. I want to love them. With whom are you going to have tea?

Five things to always apologize for

Love means often having to say you’re sorry.
Just not for this.
Last week I declared a moratorium on ten things I’ll never apologize for again. (See that post here.)


It’s freeing to realize we do not have to apologize for a lot of the things we’e spent too much of our lives apologizing for. But hold the reins. Or whatever analogy suits you. I, personally, don’t really do horses. I think it has something to do with the one that tried to knock me off her back with a tree branch when I was eight. Still have equine trust issues.

So—insert your metaphor here that means—wait a minute.

There is such a thing as too free. For instance, feel free to run around your house alone in whatever state of dress you prefer. But gong to Target like that is another matter completely. (Walmart–now there you might be able to get away with it.)

Contrary to inexplicably popular 70’s movies, love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry. In fact, love means saying it often. Over and over. Because loving people up close means we’ll have conflict and miscommunication, confusion and badly applied good intentions, and mornings without enough caffeine before opening our mouths. And we’ll have to apologize.

So a new list this week.

Five things I hope I will always apologize for.

Because there is always time to chaperone a class
trip to Orlando. Always. And there is never one
more baby of the family to do it with.

Telling people I’m too busy. With what? For what? What on earth am I doing that’s more important than that person who wants my attention or presence? The Bible says to store up our treasures in heaven (Matthew6.19-21). You know what is in heaven? People. Not our job, our computer, or our zumba class. PEOPLE. They are our treasure. I need to act like it.


It’s too easy to put my agenda first without even hearing what someone is asking. Hearing sometimes requires pulling away from me and listening at a level beyond words. Life will be too busy until you die, but only if you let it be .

I can’t I can’t possibly. I just…can’t.
Oh wait. I can.

Saying I can’t. Yes, I did say just last week I would no longer apologize for not explaining why I can’t do something. But this is different. What I’m talking about is saying “I can’t” when what I really mean is, “I don’t want to take the time.“ “It’s a bother.” “I’m too afraid.” I may not choose to explain why I can’t do something, but I always want to think about why I don’t believe I can.


Because sometimes, I can. And I’m sacrificing something or someone to cover up for my fear or apathy. It isn’t so much, “I’m sorry but I can’t.” It’s “I’d rather think about my own selfish self right now, thank you very much.” Ugh. I’m tired of my own selfish self. That person isn’t very good company. I want to say yes more than I say no  .

That talking without thinking thing. Did I mention I can be a trifle . . . sarcastic? In fact, most of us do think before we use words that are hurtful. Then we go ahead and do it anyway.

Because of the latest Supreme Court decision, I’ve already read several diatribes this week using hateful, cruel language to describe people who don’t agree with the writer. They have to know some of the people they call “friends” belong in the group they’re describing–and hurting. But personal opinion and need to be right trump those feelings.

I need to say “sorry” for the times I disregard those feelings in my need to say something witty, or right, or judgmental. It’s not OK just because I believe it.

It’s easy to say, “They were only words, and they’re probably forgotten.” But probably not, because words burn themselves into our souls, and words like “I’m sorry” can tweeze hurt out and heal the scar . Why is it so easy to launch verbal Laser Weapon Systems and so very difficult to say “I’m sorry”?

Because sometimes, life is messy.

Being a bad example. Too many years of my life got spent trying to be the shining example of perfect mom, wife, and Christian. Time I could have saved by admitting earlier I couldn’t even manage a glimmer some days much less a shine. 


You know when my ministry with other people really begin to matter? When I started saying things like, “I seriously screwed up! You too? OK, why don’t we put our messes together and see what God can do to redeem it all?”

Could I please go back and apologize to all the people who saw the “I know what I’m doing all the time and, also, I know what you should be doing and how you should be doing it” woman and tell them I’m really, really sorry? And could someone smack me the next time I slip into that?

Playing the Please-Blame-Anyone-But-Me game. You know what? It’s so much more work to figure out twenty ways someone else is at fault. It takes real effort to manipulate why I’m not really responsible for the thing I clearly am. I wish I had figured this out a long time ago.

It takes three seconds to say, “Yep, I should have known better, I’m sorry” and about three days to keep defending myself with many, many creative maneuvers. It’s only scary to think about saying, “Sorry—my fault.” It’s not so bad to do it. And be done. People respect you more, too. Trust me. People know when you’re making up excuses. They really do.

Your turn again. What have you learned that we really do need to say “sorry” for? And keep saying it? And not be afraid to?