Sometimes people tell stories that stick with you. Stories that you hide away somewhere deep in your mind and heart to pull out at a time when you really need the encouragement or even the reprimand. Recently, something I heard months ago, crept to the forefront of my thoughts.
At the beginning of the school year, an administrator at our high school recited the history of the school complete with a description of the many buildings the school has occupied through the years. One of the final sets of classrooms rented before the school had a building of their own was brand new at the time. Our administrator confessed that she somewhat humbly told the pastor, whose church the school would be renting, that the students would surely "put stains on the new carpet and dings on the freshly painted walls." She was wise enough to know the reality that kids in a building lead to such marks. These rooms would never again look brand new. The walls would forevermore hold scars of activity. The carpet would wear with the busyness of little feet. The children would undoubtedly leave evidence of life nearly everywhere they were allowed to go.
The pastor, without hesitation and with a glint of excitement in his eyes, quoted to her Proverbs 14:4~
"Where there are no oxen, the trough is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest."
A clean, unscathed trough can only mean one thing: there are no oxen.
But with oxen, there's the potential for an abundant harvest.
The potential for an abundant harvest.
Deep down, I knew there would come a day this verse in Proverbs would be needed to refocus me.
So many shoes.
So many coats.
So many "especially made for mom" crafts.
So many toys.
So many puzzle pieces.
So many cereal boxes.
So many crumbs.
So many toothbrushes.
So many toothpaste specks splattered on the mirrors.
So many people using the bathrooms.
So many orange sport cones littering the yard.
So many dings on the walls.
So many nicks on the furniture.
And those are the physical signs.
So many emotions.
So many unkind words.
So many tempers.
So many tears.
So many heartaches.
So many fears.
So many doubts.
It's impossible to remove the evidence that a lot of people live in this house.
And the people seem to be getting bigger everyday.
Or maybe they are just getting messier on all accounts.
Without the constant maintenance of running our busy home and tending to all degrees of emotions, we would very quickly be buried alive.
As the people in the home continue grow, everything else about living life seems to grow too.
The toilet is clean...until someone has to go.
The shoes are picked up...until someone comes home.
The laundry is done...until someone wears something.
The back door window clean...until someone goes outside.
The dishes done...until someone gets hungry.
The hearts happy...until a tongue lashes out.
The atmosphere calm...until discipline is required.
The questions answered...until someone has another thought.
There's never a moment when I look around my home with satisfaction and breathe, "It is finished."
Because it never is.
As one of my kids unloaded the dishwasher Sunday night, I heard muttered, "I think I've already done this today."
The oldest son (who was attempting to help the pouty 7-year-old sweep up the floor) piped in "I think you've already unloaded the dishes like 3 times today." ("Not a helpful comment, Teenager.")
I reminded them that we "used paper plates for lunch, so technically we used less dishes today than normal."
They decided together, "We need two dishwashers."
I looked around at the very capable 7 pairs of hands in the room.
No, I'm pretty sure we have enough dishwashers.
Here's what I know about having a large family:
Many hands and feet in a home make much of a mess.
But, many hands and feet in a home make for an abundant harvest when they all work together.
Couldn't that be said about living life too?
The more people that you let in to your world, the greater the potential they will bring all of their emotional and physical messiness with them.
But, the more people that you let in, the more potential for a bountiful harvest of personal growth and for more souls saved for eternity.
Every day, we do several five minute clean-ups.
The timer is set; ready, go!
Five pairs of hands (sometimes six pairs) work together to remove excess debris from the stairs, floor, tables, couches, to carry laundry upstairs, carry laundry downstairs, empty the car, etc., etc. That many hands can accomplish a lot working in a very short amount of time.
It just never lasts.
How dare a mess try to live in this house with all these hands working to keep it uncondemnable?
It often wins.
More exhausting, though, are the emotional marks and baggage that can't be fixed with a timer.
Quick, Little One, Mommy has five minutes for you to cry. Ready, cry. Clock is ticking.
I actually think this mama has said that before.
You have two more minutes to be afraid of playing soccer and then you gotta get out there because I don't have time for this nonsense. Ready, Go. Be afraid. Okay, time's up. Get out there and play.
No timer in the world can quantify how much emotional energy might be required in dealing with people.
Even healthy people require energy; how about the people that truly need our investment in their lives?
I'd do much better at reaching out to people if I could set my phone on countdown mode and say, Ready, Talk. You have five minutes left. I've got things to do.
There's no five ingredient recipe for fixing people.
Time and Energy. Energy and Time.
I miss so many opportunities to touch the hurting world around me because people and life are messy, and sometimes I'd rather save my energy, and control my time, and have the clean trough than deal with the marks that life leaves.
Sometimes, I walk into a room in my house and will myself to not look too closely at the accumulating dust, the gash in the wall, or the neatly stacked pile of "something important" waiting to be put up.
Walk in...get what you need...and walk out.
Because I really can only think clearly when the house is organized and clean.
(That might explain why I haven't been able to put together a string of coherent thoughts for the last couple years.)
Sadly, I often do the same with people.
Walk in...avoid eye contact with the ones that really need loved...get what I need...and walk out.
I'm so glad that's not what Jesus does with us.
He'd have avoided me at every angle if He viewed me the same way I often view others.
This person's going to take time and energy.
And Jesus says to that, "Then, this is the person I've come for---the sick---the needy---the hurting."
But the healthy are easier. Less messy. Less marks on the trough.
I'm not done confessing the physical marks bothering me about my house, so I have to leave my spiritual analogy for a digression...
I've tried to explain my struggle with managing our home to my husband.
The fact that I just can't clearly think in our house because it's kinda cluttered and kinda loud and a bit messy and there's just so many people.
Of course he offers advice because he's naturally more organized than I am.
AND HE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ALL DAY SO IT SEEMS VERY SIMPLE TO HIM.
"So, let's organize it and clean it up."
Like that thought doesn't cross my mind one hundred times a day.
"It was clean and picked up for a minute yesterday...or last week...or maybe that was actually last month," I protest, "You just didn't happen to be home for that minute. The PROBLEM is that it doesn't ever stay that way. The chores are just so constant."
He seems unmoved, "Well, we do actually have to live here."
Like somehow that's supposed to make me feel better.
That anything touched by living creatures is bound to leave a sign and that the life marks are somehow okay.
Naturally organized and neat people offer this advice that seems so easy to follow...for them:
Everything has its place.
That. Is. So. Not. True.
So not true.
Not everything has a place. What about the 7 pool towels that need to stay by the back door for daily swim practice? What about the pile of neatly colored pictures waiting to be sent in a card to family members? What about the over-sized, doesn't fit in the pantry, big box of individual pretzel bags that I bought from Costco that no one is eating? What about the school papers I still need to grade? What about the photos that I'm in the process of putting in frames for Christmas? What about the 17 hoodies that are piled on the bench in the hall?
And what about the people needs? There's not always a perfect, controlled spot for those needs. What about the tears that come in the middle of the day over a hurt from the past---who has time for that? What about the late night fear that plagues a child's thoughts and keeps more than just the child awake? What about the constant struggle with a sinful thinking pattern that leads to poisonous words? You can't put those things always in their place---to be dealt with at a more convenient time---and make them stay. Life is fluid. It really can make a mess of a schedule.
Not everything can be put in a box and solved with a five minute clean-up.
My husband encourages me with this thought: "I guess you'll just have to learn to think in the midst of living life."
BUT I CAN'T SEEM TO DO THAT.
The marks are getting in the way.
This is usually when he steps out of my pity-party all-together.
"Well, that must be rough to live in your mind."
He really has NO IDEA how hard it is to be trapped in my brain.
And I think he secretly wonders (as do I) how someone like me could be the bearer of six children.
Because I want to limit the marks of life evident in our home and the nicks that touch my heart.
I want to control the amount of emotional dings I might sustain reaching out to those hurting around me.
And this is in direct contrast with the way I truly want to view the messiness of life and people.
So, the struggle continues.
Years ago, burdened by the most overwhelming mess that had ever touched my grown-up world, a handful of dear friends stepped out of their orderly lives and dove into my mess with me. Not to take the trough analogy too far, but if sin and ugliness smelled like a home for animals, our odor would have stretched to the next state. Truly, no one had the extra time and energy to pour into our family. Who wakes up each day with blocks of hours set aside to love on the hurting? But they made time. They sacrificed of themselves. They allowed our mess to touch their world too. Their investment into me and my family surely left marks on them. But they valued life. They listened to the Lord when He urged them to forsake the schedule for the sake of the people. And we are forevermore humbled and thankful. Although we've moved to a different part of the country, and we often go months without talking to some of these people from our past, I sometimes wish they could sneak a peek at the joy often found in our family these days. We are a living testimony to their own harvest. Time and energy. Marks on the trough. But the end result brought forth an abundant harvest.
How can I forget the value of loving on people so easily?
As the birth of our new baby girl approaches (I can't wait to meet her by the way!), I find myself in a manic state to find some order in our home. To gain control over the chaos. To remove the messy signs of living life from our home. I want all "attitudes" dissolved. All sin removed. All tears tucked away. All shoes on the shelves. The idea to paint a magnetic chalkboard wall is my solution to the pile of lovingly drawn pictures waiting on the counter to be displayed. Somehow that makes sense to me. Tackle the pile of crafts by displaying them on the wall with magnets. My husband nips that idea before I've even completed speaking the thought.
"No. No. Absolutely no. If we have a magnetic wall, then our wall will look like our fridge. It's bad enough that there's all those papers that fall off the fridge every time someone walks into the kitchen. No way do we want a whole wall that looks that way."
As I contemplate the fridge and the 400 pictures that are magnetically struggling to maintain their place in our kitchen, I mentally clear the fridge of the clutter.
The thought of removing the work of my little people's little hands from their central place in our home snaps me somewhat out of this "control" fog that is smothering me.
Remove evidence of our life together from our home? We, the people, ARE this home. Do I really want to remove the signs that love happens here, and many hands and feet move among these walls everyday?
Nope. The fridge stays as is. No way are we removing the signs of life from this house. I guess the tears can stay too. Even the attitudes that are being trained. All of that is part of the life that happens and makes a bit of mess.
There's more to my thinking shift, though.
Do I really want to remove everything that causes a little bit of a mess in my life?
What a worthless, selfish existence to only be concerned that my hypothetical trough is clean...in order...both physically and emotionally.
Life happens within the walls of a home, within the walls of a church, and even simply walking down the street to get the mail. There's no way to completely eliminate the fact that getting involved with real people will leave real marks. I love walking into model homes because they are so clean, and so unmarked, and so absolutely un-lived in. So unlived in appeals to me. Clean and neat, but lifeless.
"Where there are no oxen, the trough is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest."
I'm praying for the ability to value the marks that life leaves. To not hold so tightly to the energy I think I need to conserve, but to pour it out on people. To not value control and order so highly that I miss the blessing of diving into a mess with someone and helping them to see the Truth. My pursuit of the clean trough might lead to a sense of control, but I will miss out on the abundant harvest that awaits.
The harvest has the potential to be plentiful if we take the time to really touch people.
But it will surely be messy too.
I pray for the courage to choose what is best.
And I pray that at the moments when I'm the messiest, that someone will also find the courage to allow their own trough to get a little dirty.