Before we moved to a bigger place in 1968, I
lived with my parents and four siblings in a small three-bedroom house. Mom
let us build forts in the living room. She let us breed our black Labrador,
mostly because we wanted the puppy experience on the grandest scale
possible. I was an adult before I realized that most families actually used
matching plates at dinner. Later as a grandma, Mom would take our three
young kids all day for my birthday to give me a break. On one birthday she
let my children plan the menu and each kid got to make and decorate their
own cake. That meal ran high on starch and one of the cakes had an actual
Barbie doll jammed down the center; Iím assuming Barbie got a bath first,
but donít know for sure. (I do remember Barbieís hair caught fire when we
lit the candles.) Momís plates still donít match very well, but nobody
matches her as a mother and grandma.
When I got
married, I registered for a complete set of Mikasa dishes and ran my
newlywed household with a degree of organization unimaginable to my mother.
My refrigerator held no expired Ranch dressing. My Christmas decorations
resided in carefully marked boxes. My socks never lost track of their
birth to two children and attempted to keep my house running on the same
tight and tidy ship, an incredibly frustrating experience for all of us.
Over time I realized that Mom had been right all along, and Iíd been getting
it wrong. Mom knew that real love was messy. Once I understood this truth,
I tried to do better. I tried to do messier.
a television commercial advertising a plastic toy village where all the
pieces moved about a fixed track. Children smiled as they eased figures up
and down an incline and around a circle. A parentís dream! No loose pieces
and no clean-up time! My kids would have despised this toy. They liked
buckets of Legos that they could dump all over the floor to create towers
and cars and houses. They wanted sets of Brio train track to connect down
the hall from room to room. These types of toys were a pain to pick up but
they were the very best for their little brains, so I bought them. The
small pieces sparked imagination and creativity--and jabbed our bare feet
when we accidentally stepped on them. Today our oldest son, Zach, is a
senior in engineering at Oregon State where he builds stuff. Weíre still
finding his Legos in the couch.
we should avoid extremes and not live in filth, but I donít think Christ
cares about spotless pantries or matching stemware. I picture Jesus down on
the carpet beside us, hands working the pieces of our lives. He has the
tools to create masterpieces from our spilled parts, if only weíd let
recognition that love was messy, I consciously and deliberately allowed it
into my home in practical ways. Even so, I realized I still held too much
control. I maintained too great a handle on my home as the mother of two.
My house simply stayed too neat for my own good. I needed something to push
me over the edge. So I had a third child. This was not the only reason we
had Taylor, but seriously, it was a reason.
there, I ventured to the most dangerous place of all: I got a dog--a big,
excitable one. Our youngest son had long begged for a puppy to love and
hold and train, and could hardly believe it when I finally caved. We got
Bailey, a beautiful yellow Lab who chewed her way through table legs, chairs
and stair rails.
to move beyond merely tolerating chaos to embracing it. I opened our home
to our kidsí friends, and they came and came and came. Iíd walk in the
front door to discover unknown teenagers searching the fridge for a snack.
Sometimes our kids would be gone but their friends would come anyway. No
matter the resulting mess, I tried to support and encourage my familyís
projects. I had to smile through our daughterís impulsive attempt at triple
chocolate cookies, which generated a sink-full of gooey bowls and utensils,
counters littered with flour and eggshells, and three-dozen charred
cookies. Today our Annie studies nutrition/dietetics at OSU.
help of our three children, teenage friends and neurotic dog, I made
progress in my messy sanctification. It was just in time. Jimís art career
was taking off, and I was prepared for that fabulous mess in a way Iíd never
painted his first original in acrylic at our kitchen table. Before long, he
moved from acrylics to watercolor to pastel and from the kitchen to our
downstairs family room. Jim now claims more than half of our family room,
most of Zachís room, and part of the garage for his art. Occasionally he
encroaches upon the living and dining rooms where I repeatedly evict him.
Without limitation, heíd surely take over the entire house.
suggest that Jim build a separate art studio out back, but he needs company
and feedback too much for that. I canít draw stick figures, yet Jim
continually seeks my critique for each of his pieces. I donít know what Iím
talking about, but sometimes notice parts of a painting that donít seem
right. I have no idea why. Iíll point to the spot. ďHere,Ē I say.
slightly, admitting, ďYeah, thatís a problem area. I hoped you wouldnít
notice.Ē Heíll explain exactly why it doesnít work, take the painting
downstairs, make a few changes, and return with a perfect piece.
he lives for my ďthumbs-upĒ on a painting. I donít know why my response
matters so much to him, but it does. Maybe itís the realization that Iím
honestógently honest--and that he can trust my pure motives. But I think
what he seeks most is assurance from his wife. Our praise means more than
anyone elseís. Our approval carries tremendous weight and responsibility.
this encouragement is tougher to provide than other times. Jim often paints
into the silly hours, long after Iíve gone to sleep, but that doesnít stop
him. Heíll burst into our bedroom where Iím fast asleep, flip on the
overhead light and plop his latest work in my face. ďWhat do you think?Ē
heíll ask. I look at the clock and tell him heíd get a better and
friendlier answer in the morning.
reality, the hour is never too late to insert any type of art into our
lives. My most horrible class in high school and college was writing.
While I loved books and did plenty of reading, I was absolutely a
math/science girl, a concrete thinker who liked control and clear
parameters. In writing class Iíd outline all my ideas, producing error-free
but lifeless papers. I couldnít allow my mind to flow creativity down
different paths; my need for perfection held me back. I needed the courage
to be imperfect, and it took me 36 years to find it in the area of writing.
My increasingly messy, open home environment had helped open my mind.
Inside our house, the climate had changed for all of us.
think women realize the tremendous influence they have in setting the tone
in the home. Is it okay to take risks and perhaps fail? Is it all right to
try something new and messy that might send Mom over the edge--through the
missing stair rail that the puppy chewed?
should be safe and encouraging places, places for our families to hear
gentle suggestions, then go boldlyÖinto the studio, into the kitchen, into
the university. Let them run with it. Step back and just watch where it