For the majority of last week I felt like I was drowning. In what? Good question. Phone calls? Appointments? Expectations? E-mail? Cooking? Laundry? I dunno.
It’s during times like these, the times that I feel like my oxygen is slowly being cut off, that I am most aware of my internal-external tug of war. These external pressures result in internal chaos. And when the internal state of my mind is chaos, I exert a fierce grip of control over my external world in an attempt to push back that chaos. This does not typically end well.
The fact is, that this tug of war is almost always going on. Usually it stays in balance and I’m able to moderate myself. However, when one side pulls too hard, and the other side begins to topple, I kinda freak out. I mop the kitchen floor, I wipe down baseboards, I clean the top of the fridge. In my more humbling moments I whine, plead, and threaten the children into joining me in my manic cleaning, purging, and organizing.
This is where I found myself last week. I’m better able to recognize my descent into Mommy-Dearest, and I knew I was heading there. Once named, I realized that I really didn’t want to go there this time. Now let me be clear that this had very little to do with any notion of self-improvement or character-refinement. No, it was much simpler than that. The fact was I. was. tired.
This coping mechanism has worked for me for a long time. But at that moment I realized that I simply couldn’t afford the energy required for the coping. I started to feel kinda panicky and quickly began searching for a new way of surviving. I glanced at my camera on the counter. It seemed like a stupid idea. I floundered for a better one for a few minutes, then finally gave in.
And I spent the day photographing messes.
We have four young children, and a very snug house. There was no shortage of messes to step over, step around, and step on. And I carried my camera around with me, searching for the next mess.
Every time I found a mess that made me furrow my brow, made my blood pressure rise, made my stomach clench, instead of yelling for someone to clean it up, I snapped a picture. I hardly knew what I hoped to gain by taking the photos, to be honest it felt like a completely ridiculous exercise. I really just had no better idea of how to manage.
A few days later, I sat down to sort through those photos, and the funniest thing happened. I didn’t see the messes. I saw the event that had resulted in the mess.
Instead of the dress-up clothes strewn from one side of the dining room to the other, I saw all four of them giggling for an hour over the costumes they put together. I didn’t see the trail of Legos like breadcrumbs down the hallway and across the bedroom floor, I saw them playing together, quietly, building Lego cities. And rather than seeing a sink and a counter top piled high with greasy bowls and pots and pans, I saw the four bags of chili in the freezer and the week’s worth of GAPS chicken stock in the fridge.
Taking the photos hadn’t changed the messes. They were still messy and they still were cleaned up in their time. But the photos had changed the way I saw the messes. They gave me a little distance, and a little time. And in that space my entire perspective had changed. The messes were no longer annoying interruptions to my day and disruptions to my internal peace of mind. The messes were the reminders of life lived, and beauty witnessed, and they took on a nostalgic sweetness.
I will always lean towards the tidy end of the spectrum. It’s the way I have been designed and I don’t desire to change that. Nor do I think I could change it, if I wanted to. But as it turns out, you can teach an old heart new tricks (hallelujah!) and this one is learning to seek the glory in the mess.
Being thankful for the mess? I’m not quite there yet. But I’m on the path.