Since I got home, I’ve been trying to see with my ocean eyes–the ones scrubbed, rubbed and salt-glazed like old viridian sea glass, but
everywhere I look, something is out of place.
In the morning after breakfast, I sweep, my fingers still rubbery and root-shriveled from the dish water. Sometimes the receding tide carves lines in the seashore too–fine and boney, like brittle seaweed; curved and twisted, like willowy stems; veiny and fading, like pith. By the sea, these etchings are graceful and vulnerable, an elegant crown around the forehead of the earth. Here, they feel like cracks in my armor. But maybe that’s it; on the coast I don’t try so desperately to protect myself. I accept life as it comes.
I’ve piled the washed pots in the drainboard to dry; it’s a sharp jumble of stainless steel, most of it left over from the night before, things emptied and stacked by the sink late. Entropy rules this household. I can lift my washcloth from the clean counter and another crumb will fall, another emptied dish will appear, another mess will grow. But then, it is our nature to make a mess of things. And it is the nature of this place to fall apart. The coastline erodes. The broom thwacks against the linoleum–which calls me to my knees for scrubbing. I search out crumbs and dust from hidden places–under the trash can, collected on the floor beneath the cabinets. But for every crumb that I scoop up in the dustpan, there’s a smudge that won’t budge beneath the broom. Our lives are really so messy; it’s a wonder we try to look so polished.
Finishing the job in the kitchen, I carry the broom into the dining room, where dust bunnies chase my feet as I walk, collecting around the legs of the dining room chairs. I set to work, moving chairs out of the way, rubbing my thumbs over the worn places made by our hands over so many years of dinners. All the while, I think of the coat closet where my children’s bookbags have exploded, left from the last school year, and the stack of Zoe’s things still sitting right where she dropped them when she walked in the door. The place under the stove? Where I store my cookware? It looks like silver and black AHHHH! I open the cabinet doors and I feel like I’m staring into a cavernous mouth full of broken silver teeth. I can’t make out one piece from another. I’m playing Jinga every time I remove my skillet.
I like to keep the house clean, but I’m also trying so hard to have more time for people than things.
But cleanliness is next to Godliness, or so they say (why do we care so much what they say?), and if that’s so, right now this house is just about as un-Godly as could be. But did you know that that phrase doesn’t actually exist in the Bible? Right now, I look around my house and feel caged and about as broken as the vacuum cleaner I just replaced, which was so used up it started spitting dirt instead of removing it. If you had your act together… The thought sticks like flung mud, but I’ll tell you now: I don’t. I don’t have my act together. The overwhelming mess of living and loving, especially with children, can make us mamas feel more defeated than redeemed. I could wish myself right back to that wildy beautiful beach where the rain dotted my arms and bits of old bone glittered like gemstones in the sand. That place is the stunning truth.
I think that phrase is most often used for bodies instead of houses, but still, the words chide. And when I really start to think about it, they make me angry. Cleanliness.is.next.to.Godliness. I’m jabbing them against the floor with my broom, and the dust rises and slides and falls, as though there’s a wind blowing it together. I can’t think of any consecration or wealth of love in scripture that didn’t start out all dirty and torn. Jesus died a bloody mess, and that’s the truth. Sacrifices…they’re brutal, gore-splattering, staining. Newborn babies have to be washed right out of the womb. There’s nothing clean at all about the process of redemption. A piece of seaglass starts out a jagged, shard that could slice into me and draw blood, red drops of me dripping and seeping into the ground the way the blood of Abel did, the blood of Jesus. The kind of loving that made me new is battered and shattered and ripped before its beautiful. Brokenness is next to Godliness, more like. There is such a thing as a holy mess. It’s the broken-up dirty that happens when love sacrifices self and makes something new. Sometimes being clean inside means falling completely apart on the outside.
I pause in the doorway to the living room, taking in the pillows, sagging and half-tucked. I can still see the Adam-shaped dent on his favorite chair, right where he pressed his back. And that’s when I get it (again, again, I always have to get it again): there’s another way to see all this gradual and collected disorder, these scattered remnants of us. That place under the stove? It’s jumbled because my children help me clean the kitchen and sometimes, they’re impatient. And Zoe’s things are right there where she left them because she stops to hug me on her way in and then nearly always has something on her mind and wants to talk and sometimes, she’s forgetful. And the crumbs and the dust collect because we sit around laughing and crying and filling up on each other at the dinner table; because we track in wet grass from the backyard; because we’re alive. There is such a thing as a holy mess. Sometimes the messes we make only mean something more lasting has happened to us, something that shapes us new and better.
It’s my freed soul, the one that roams that beach, that right now pries the lock off the crazy notion that somehow a dirty house can’t still be a beautiful home. And it’s my ocean eyes that now look down at my vulnerable water-carved fingers and finally begin to see–again–the exquisite art in living.