I often feel the need to apologize for my desk. It's not that it's messy; on the contrary, the orderly state of my office can a bit of a shock to others. It's usually one of the first things people comment on, saying, "Oh, you're so organized," as if it's some sort of accusation. While it's standard to excuse messiness as evidence of a full and busy life or a sign of creativity (such as the signs that say, "Pardon the mess, the children and I are making memories"), an organized desk seems to signal a person has way too much time on her hands, or lives an empty kind of existence. I am quick to explain, "Really, I'm just neat on the outside, but on the inside I'm a mess!" I laugh it off, even though it's my truth.
For as long as I can remember, being neat and tidy has been my way of controlling my external environment when the chaos takes over within me. I can sort piles of paper more easily than the thoughts and worries that plague me. Cleaning and organizing is an acceptable way of procrastinating the looming deadlines. Having clear surfaces makes me feel on top of things when life has often surprised me with how little I can actually control. If it were only so easy to purge the bad feelings and attitudes as it is to toss out the trash. If only life followed the "to do" lists I painstakingly (and uselessly) make each day.
I grew up being told I could be and do anything I wanted in life, and I worked hard to fulfill my dreams. It worked for a while...until it didn't. The truth is that life doesn't always turn out the way you plan. The good news is that it can end up being even better if you stick it out, but there's often a messy pathway to get there. My messy beautiful life has looked a lot neater on the outside than it's felt on the inside. I learned early on to wear a mask, to carefully consider how I was portraying myself to others. It's looked like having it all together while feeling like I was falling apart. It meant being far more critical of myself than others could ever be. I've spent way too much time perfecting my image in order to be accepted, only to be shunned when people judge me to be someone I'm not.
My turning point came when my well-intentioned plans started to fall apart after college. The major that was supposed to lead to the big job led to failure, and in place of a destination, I was left in a place of uncertainty. I questioned myself and I questioned God, but faith is easy to lose when it's built primarily on what you can do on your own. I was without a plan for the first time and it all looked like one big ol' mess. But when I let go, amazing things started to happen. I had nothing else to hold onto but my faith in God, and help and support from those around me. It didn't take long in the silence to be able to finally discern that still, small voice that was calling me into ministry. This path would begin a roundabout journey of breaking apart my faith before rebuilding it again (and renovation is always a messy process). It led me to find the love of my life, and our marriage and love has been the greatest beauty I have experienced. Grace was found in the freedom to finally be the real me and to be accepted for who I am, with all of my faults and the messiness that goes with the real work of relationships. Our love led to two miraculous babies, who gave me all new lessons on letting go of my plans and trusting that something more beautiful will come out of the mess. It has, time and time again.
Now those babies are six and eight, and they don't appreciate neatness or plans nearly as much as I do. But they know me and love me enough to barrel into me when I get home, smothering me with sticky hugs before running off saying, "We have to clean up! Mommy's home!" I smile, knowing that there is beauty in the mess of a life unfolding as it will.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE.