thank you for not vacuuming the stairs - my messy beautiful

"Messy and beautiful are Like Laverne and Shirley or Joy and Pain or Love and Loss or peas and carrots or Family Picture Day and Nervous Breakdowns….THEY GO TOGETHER. Messy and beautiful are inseparable." 

A gesture drawing done by Rembrandt.
The first time I remember being confronted by the idea that messy could be beautiful was in an art class I took at a junior college the summer after ninth grade. For the first lesson of the class, our instructor took us to the park and told us to draw gestures of the people we saw walking across the street or sitting on a bench. Gesture drawings are a lot like scribbles with purpose. They are meant to capture the essence of the subject, not to be a perfect representation of it.

Gestures gave me constipation.

They weren't perfect. They were messy. My perfectionist protested as I struggled to scribble on purpose.

I didn't embrace the beauty of messy gestures right away. I wanted everything to be beautiful and perfect, which by definition is not messy. If I couldn't do it perfectly, I would avoid doing it so that I didn't have to fail. Dr. Kevin Leman would tell you that I am a discouraged perfectionist.

After skeptically reading The Birth Order Book by Leman I looked at my husband and told him I thought I might be a first-born perfectionist after all. He looked at me like I was crazy.

Because I'm not perfect, I'm messy. In so many ways, I'm Messy.

There is a blogger who I have grown to love, Glennon Melton. She is Messy too. Not only that, but she is totally okay with being Messy, which is refreshing. She embraces her Messy because she knows that I am Messy and that you are Messy too. Because it's a universal thing, this Messiness.

She recently wrote a book, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. I signed up to be a part of her Messy, Beautiful Warriors project and committed to write a post about my messy, beautiful life because I think that the thought that messy and beautiful go hand in hand is encouraging.

When I told my daughter Kaitlin that I was going to write a post about how my life is messy and beautiful, I asked her for some ideas, some ways that she could see that my life is messy and beautiful.

"Well, you are really messy!," she said and then paused to think of what to say next. "...and you are really beautiful!"

My stairs, halfway to being vacuum-free.
My ability to not clean well is the subject of many conversations in our house. It has tested my husband's Type A personality. He grew up in a home that looked like a museum because it was so clean. I grew up in a home that looked, like, extremely lived in because it was so... lived in.

I've tried to meet in the middle and so has my husband, bless his soul. We once bought a vacuum from a door to door salesman because he told us that our carpets would be cleaner. That sounded hopeful to us. Evidently owning the vacuum does not make them cleaner, it's the actual act of vacuuming that does it.

Vacuuming the floor is like going to the dentist. I know I should do it, but I put it off. Vacuuming the stairs is like getting your impacted wisdom teeth pulled without Novacaine. You just don't do it if you don't have to. True story: I pulled up the carpet on our stairs because I would rather live with ugly stairs than to have to vacuum them.

The first time I realized how messy I was was when we invited my husband's family for a barbecue to celebrate the purchase of our first home. One of our guests got down on her hands and knees to clean my kitchen floor.

I am not proud of my messy house. Growing up I had no solid career aspirations, but I aspired to be a good homemaker and a good mom. I imagined that my home would be clean and my kids would smile appreciatively at me as they ate their homemade after-school snacks.

But somehow it seemed a lot easier in my imagination. Forget about the deep cleaning, these days I'm just happy if I get the laundry done so that my husband doesn't have to go commando. I wish I were a good homemaker and housekeeper, a good example of these things to my kids.

I try to be.

That's why it struck a nerve deep in the very center of me when someone told me, while visiting their home, that I wasn't a good mom when I left my drink on the bed stand to be finished later. No wonder your kids don't pick up after themselves! Not only that, but I don't deep clean the house well enough. Your kids could get sick! I felt pretty awful about myself after that visit.

A different time I visited a different house. It was just a quick visit to pick up my daughter from a sleepover at her friend's. As I stood in the entry visiting with the mom as I waited for Kaitlin to get her things, I noticed the dog fur on the carpeted stairs. The mom must have followed my gaze. She waved her hand in the air, dismissing the dirty stairs. "We live a busy life," she said.

"I think they are wonderful!" I said. "Actually I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with dog-furry stairs. So, thank you for not vacuuming the stairs!" Her messy was beautiful to me.

And that's the thing about embracing our messy lives and being real with others about our struggles and imperfections: it's beautiful when others realize they're not alone. It's beautiful when you dare to be vulnerable and realize you are not alone. You might be messy, but you are okay.

I think that sentence might have just given my husband constipation. I'm not necessarily saying that messy houses are the goal here, I'm just saying that it's not the worst thing in the world to have a messy house when someone stops by. I'm saying that I am not good at housecleaning, but I am a good mom with good kids. And I have good relationships with them.

More importantly, I'm saying that Messy is more than just about housecleaning. It's about taking off our masks. It's letting go of pretenses. Messy is being Real, warts and all. It's not what should be, it's what is. Admitting we are sometimes Messy is being wholehearted, and that's beautiful.

A while back I went to a women's get together at church. We were told to go around the room and share which Fruit of the Spirit we most needed. Do I have to pick just one? I wondered. I need them all! I need a Fruit of the Spirit Salad!

It became clear as we went around the room that Patience and Love were the Fruits of choice. Who can't use more patience or love when dealing with the imperfect people in our lives?

One of the women broke form and said she wanted Peace, then mentioned her struggle with depression. I didn't know her, but I was impressed by her boldness because I know from experience that depression isn't always something that Christians understand very well. It's messy and a lot of church-going people don't like messy.

I once had a debate with a bible study leader who claimed that you weren't abiding in Christ if you were discouraged and being discouraged is a sin. I disagree. Discouragement is an emotion, just like anger is. To be discouraged or angry is not a sin. I believe that God gave us these emotions as indicators to help us know what's going on inside of us. Kind of like a smoke alarm going off is an indicator that something is wrong, so are our emotions. The subsequent action taken based on those indicators, that is what the sin is, the result of not abiding in Christ. The action is the sin, not the emotion. To feel discouraged is not a sin.

I'm not sure about this, but I'd be willing to bet that some of my depression originated under the weight of legalism. I wonder how many Christians are depressed because they don't believe they can be Messy if they are abiding in Christ?

The next time I saw The Woman Who Chose Peace in church I passed by her then decided to double back and tell her that I appreciated her sharing about her struggle with depression, that I struggled with it too and if she ever needed to talk to someone who understood, she could talk to me.

What followed has been a beautiful friendship. Her vulnerability to share about her need for Peace in the midst of a bunch of Patience people, and my vulnerability to reach out to a stranger about my own struggle with depression-- it felt Messy, but it was beautiful!

Messy and beautiful go wonderfully together. 

Brene Brown writes "Here's what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now, not if, not when, we're worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is."

As is. 

Messy. Beautiful. Wholehearted. 

This culture wants us to gloss over the Messy. The message is that if we don't acknowledge the Messy, or if we somehow control the Messy, then we can have Beautiful. And, maybe that's true if you're idea of beautiful is the artificial airbrushed unrealistic supermodels or highly staged snapshots of decorated living rooms on magazine covers. I prefer to think that authenticity and wholeheartedness is beautiful. 

It's not either/or, it's both/and. Both Messy and Beautiful. When we decide to embrace our Messy Beautiful, when we decide to be vulnerable and authentic, we are warriors in this fight for wholeheartedness. It's worth the fight.

Carry On, Warrior. Embrace your messy, beautiful life.

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!

** edit: I forgot to make a "pinnable image" so


Hanna Kerkhof said...

Thank you Anne! I’m messy too and I loved to read this as a reminder of my own beauty in the middle of my ‚messy'

Lucy martin said...

Anne, thank you for sharing from your wonderful heart! Embrace is my word this year...and I am learning to embrace forgive myself and not be quite so critical.
Messy is good because there is something going on...progress, change, life!
It's stagnancy that is frightening I think!

laura bell said...

This is a beautiful, honest post. Thank you for sharing! I'm also one who lives a full life with a home that suffers in cleanliness. And that photo of your stairs is too funny! Embrace the messiness indeed!


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