When There’s A Great Big, Sticky, Smelly Mess That Can’t Be Wished Away

There is

As I headed out of the kitchen, trash bag in hand, my load suddenly felt lighter and a wet, sticky sensation swept across my feet. Jabs of pain radiated down my thigh.

Earlier that day I had hastily tossed a broken wire hanger into the trash can. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but apparently the metal stick landed in just the right spot to tear open the bag and simultaneously gash my leg.

I stood surveying the stinky mess that blanketed the floor I had scrubbed two hours prior. What was once pristine was covered in filth.

In that moment I did a lot of futile wishing.

I wished that I had never thrown that hanger away.

I wished that my leg wasn’t throbbing.

I even wished that my name was Carol Brady and that my trusty housekeeper named Alice would clean up the mess for me.

But none of my wishing altered my reality. There was a big ugly mess on my kitchen floor and I was responsible for cleaning it up.

As I examine my life, I can recall many messes made in the corridors of my heart, spirit, and mind. Like the gunky monstrosity caused by the broken trash bag, some of my messes were created by my negligence, sins, and mistakes.

The mirror of my past reflects broken relationships damaged by insecurities, debt resulting from overspending, and angry tirades as I pursued perfection. Instead of cleaning up the messes as I made them, I spent years hiding my self-wreckage in a dark closet of blame and excuses.

There also have been times when I stood in a pile of garbage not of my own making. Verbal attacks, betrayal, and deception pummeled me just like the bag of trash splattered on my kitchen floor.

For years I felt that the messes I didn’t create on my own were not my responsibility. Moreover, I put those into a box labeled “victim,” hid them, and hoped that somehow they would disappear.

Several years ago I discovered a life-changing fact regarding the messes of life: the trash’s origin makes little difference at clean up time.

Refusing to clean a mess that someone else made or started to make doesn’t hide the smell. Stamping my feet and wailing, “It’s not fair,” may garner sympathy but it won’t rid the stain.

There are lots of things I can do with a mess. I can analyze it, call an expert to examine it, investigate its inception, and give it a fancy name like “dysfunctional matter.” I can even cleverly arrange a few pieces into abstract art.

But unless I take action to remove the trash collected during the business of living life, I’ll never be free from it’s stench. The junk will multiply and the dirt will either overwhelm me or numb me. Despair, desensitize or climb out are the only three choices when living in an emotional garbage heap.

I’m glad I don’t have to go about my cleaning by myself; because when I do take that approach I just end up making a bigger mess. In Joshua 1:5 God promises “I will never leave you or forsake you.” When I call out to my savior for help, he comes and often he sends others  as well, because human beings are not designed to go it alone. We need one another for respite … for solidarity … for accountability … for growth … for sanity.

Cleaning up with God isn’t always easy. He is thorough and the labor is exhausting. Sometimes he uncovers dirt behind the dirt that I never knew existed. He asks me to handle hard chores: taking responsibility, repenting, forgiving. He won’t let me hide the clutter in a drawer or sweep dust under a rug. He stays at it until the job is done right.

My Jesus remains beside me each step of the way, brushing back my hair, holding the trash bag, and whispering

Draw closer sweet one, you can do this. I know it’s hard. I know it’s painful, but with me it’s possible. You will see  beauty underneath this garbage. I promise.

Regardless the heap’s depth, stickiness, or odor, it is cleanable. There is no cleaning agent more powerful than the blood of Jesus. And there is no scent more fragrant than the distilling love of Christ.


A similar version of my story above was published at (in)courage in 2009.


Dear Women Everywhere: Let’s Make a Pact to Never Apologize for How We Look Without Makeup

As a child of God(1)

My daughter’s allergies stuffed up her nose, reddened her eyes, and altered her voice to sound like a Darth Vader/Elmo hybrid. Meds were a must and I didn’t have time to apply my makeup before heading to the pharmacy.

So when I got inside the store, I pointed my head toward my feet and walked fast. I needed to get the remedies without being seen by someone who knew me, because cosmetics were my confidence crutch and my face was bare. No foundation. No blush. Not even a few strokes of lip gloss.

I whipped down aisle 9, grabbed a bottle of Zyrtec, zipped around the corner, and smacked my hip against another person’s cart. But this wasn’t your ordinary shopper. Oh no. This was a fellow PTA mom, whose daughter attended school with mine.

Oh my gosh! Angela! I’m so, so sorry! Are you hurt?

I stuttered an apology of my own.

I’m OK, I’m just so sorry you have to look at me without my makeup on.

Seriously.  I said that.

And she gave me a look that oozed, Seriously? Did you really just say that?

My hip was growing a purple lump the size of a tennis ball, and I apologized for not wearing makeup.

When I think back to moments like that one, I recoil with embarrassment.

That night I made myself a promise that I’ve kept to this day. I vowed that I would never again apologize for how I look au naturel.

While I haven’t shunned cosmetics and I feel strongly that there is no shame in a woman’s desire to feel beautiful, there is something horribly wrong with believing that I owe the world an apology every time I don’t look photo-shoot ready.

Thoughts like that are disrespectful to me and, more importantly, they’re disrespectful to God.

I have absolutely zero right to claim responsibility for the coloring of my skin, shape of my nose, or placement of my eyes. I had no part in my physical design, so when I’m criticizing my natural appearance … I’m discrediting God as an artist.

Imagine being given a beautiful pair of earrings made especially for you by a dear friend. Now, imagine wearing those earrings to a small dinner party your friend is hosting and making apologies for the earrings every time someone compliments them.

Oh, thanks. I’m sorry the metal is gold instead of silver; and I know they’d look even better with garnets instead of emeralds so I’m very sorry about that too, but *shrug* this is what I was given.

Your precious friend would be crestfallen and the other attendees appropriately aghast.

When I issue an apology for my less-than-glamorous look, I’m pretty much dissing the creator of the world to his other works of art right in front of him.

Here’s something else I need never to forget. When God looked at his finished creation, he described it with two words “very good.”

 “And God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Very good.

The words he used to describe flowers, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and the blue hues of the ocean also applied to Eve. They now belong to me. They now belong to you.

Maybe as you were reading my story, a sliver of guilt sliced your conscious. Please understand that I don’t write the words I do to evoke shame or self-hatred. I write to help women find freedom from shame and self-hatred. I share my ugly to empower you to embrace your beautiful.

Because you are beautiful. With or without makeup. In stilettos or sneakers. Ponytail, pixie cut or bouncy curls.  You’re beautiful. And every part of your face was sculpted, proportioned, and placed the way God intended.

Now my blog is probably one of the least interactive spots on the Internet. Back in 2008, I made my readers a promise of guilt-free reading … “read without commenting”, I said. And I meant it. But today I’m going to break that rule and ask you to be brave. If you’d like to join me in promising to no longer say sorry for how you look when you aren’t wearing makeup, would you please consider leaving a comment on this post?

You can share your story, or type simply type “I will not apologize for how I look without makeup” and sign your first name? Or if you’d rather tweet your promise or write it on my Facebook page, that’s fine too.

And if you decide to make that promise, will you encourage a friend or two long the way? Because I think this is important. I think the first step to being the women God created us to be is to stop apologizing for the innate parts of us that—even though we’re responsible for protecting—we don’t own. When we make peace with our personal appearance and accept our mirror’s reflection as God’s good work, we also are better able to focus on the most important type of beauty that dwells from within.


 

The Real Reason Taylor Swift Used to Bug Me

As a child of God

I’ll never admit this to my 11-year-old daughter, but until recently everything about Taylor Swift irritated me. I didn’t have a legitimate reason for the intense feelings of dislike that washed over me every time I heard her music or even her name. I simply couldn’t stand the superstar. Not one bit.

A few months back, I was watching one of the bajillion music award shows, when the cameras focused on Ms. Swift as she danced enthusiastically while another group performed on stage.

Rolling my eyes I huffed to my husband,

“That girl bugs. I mean would you look at her … drawing all that attention to herself as if she doesn’t get enough of it already … seriously, just look at her bopping around, waving her arms, wearing that red lipstick …”

Crud.

The answer hit me. I knew exactly why Taylor Swift annoyed me and it had NOTHING to do with her and EVERYTHING to do with the condition of my heart.

I was jealous.

Good gracious that’s a painful sentence to type. But it’s true. Envy green as grass covered me, but it was hard for me to recognize it at first. It was easier to rename my jealousy as “righteous annoyance” and assign the blame to Taylor Swift. Not being able to readily pinpoint the root of my jealousy also made it more difficult to identify the ugly feeling. I didn’t covet her fame and I’m too realistic to even dare aspire to her level of wealth, so what was it?

Her ability to live in the moment and embrace what she loves and who she is without apologizing for it later.

That’s it.

Confidence without arrogance.

The belief that I’m worth enough to express my opinions, ideas, and dreams even if other people think they’re wacky.

The ability to be less tucked in and more bold.

The strength to kick shame in the gut and not second-guess every decision.

The courage to not apologize for being the woman God created me to be.

And why in the world did it take the red lipstick to help me piece it all together?

Because back in the 90’s my lips looked fabulous in the shade of candied apples. I’m not sure what changed, but the older I get the subtler my lipstick gets. This has nothing to do with self-doubt. It’s a matter of fact: my face looks better when highlighted with softer hues.

I don’t begrudge Taylor for being able to carry off a color that used to look good on me, but the lipstick  reminded me that I’ve spent the better part of 40 years editing my true personality instead of embracing it. I was jealous that at 25, Taylor Swift is allowing herself the freedom that I refused to give myself at that age.

That’s what bugged me.

Not sweet, free-spirited Taylor Swift who loves her fans and her mama (whom my daughter and I are praying for every night), but my own fears I avoided facing for far too long.

Ironically, I was jealous of the very thing that I could have all the time if I didn’t do such a stellar job of talking myself out of it.

As a child of God, my value is fused into every molecule of my being. The creator and sustainer of the universe designed me, breathed life into me, and sent me to earth at this time for a reason. And when I remember that, I have everything I need to hold my head high and live unashamed. I have confidence not in myself, but in knowing I belong to the all-powerful, all-wonderful, always-present, always-knowledgeable King of Kings. And that truth frees me to be me.

This is what the Lord says — your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” – Isaiah 48:17-18

Why the Condition of Your Home Doesn’t Matter One Bit When it Comes to Friendship

HoneyFriend

My favorite place to hangout with a girlfriend is in either her home or mine. Parks, coffee shops, cafes … they’re all great, but I’m most comfortable nestled in a cozy spot that holds pieces of someone’s story.

My friends Jenny* and Kathryn* both have houses I adore to visit, but their homes couldn’t be more different. Right after shuffling the soles of my shoes across Jenny’s monogrammed doormat I know exactly how it would feel to live inside a Pottery Barn catalog.

Hardwood floors? Polished.

Decorative pillows? Plenty and Plumped.

Dining table? Trendy and seasonal table scape.

Kid toys? Nowhere to be seen.

Kathryn’s house looks more like mine: Not filthy, but knocked around by everyday life.

Carpet? Vacuumed … sometimes, just not this week.

Window treatments? Someday, but until then plastic blinds will do.

Dining table? Hard to see under the piles of paper.

Kid toys? Watch where you step.

Now here’s the truth–and I’ll swear to this on the life of my dark roast coffee–I don’t prefer Kathryn’s house to Jenny’s or vice versa, because in both homes friendship, not furnishings, is the star.

Neither Jenny’s clean nor Kathryn’s clutter stir up feelings of uneasiness or demand my attention, because they don’t matter. We share a bottle of wine or sip sweet tea and we lean in and listen closely. We swap stories about our kids and the nuances of our world.

We talk politics and religion and all the subjects that strangers avoid but heart sisters embrace because the hard discussions sharpen our minds while softening our souls.

We talk of dreams and regrets. We encourage bravery or caution depending on the circumstance.

We problem solve and vacation plan and brainstorm about which celebrities to cast for the Lifetime movie version of our lives.

We laugh until the muscles in our stomachs press against our rib cages. And then we gulp in more air and more drink and laugh even harder as one story leads to an even funnier one.

We pay no mind to the shoes strewn across Kathryn’s  floor or the Fabergé-inspired eggs on Jenny’s 19th century side table. They don’t matter.

Sometimes tears outnumber the giggles.

We sigh deep and heavy over news about ailing parents, cancer scares, and marital discord.

We are quiet at times. Like when the words we want to say dissolve in our mouths because it’s too painful to join them with sound. Those moments are for holding hands and passing tissues and tossing throw pillows on the ground because they get in the way of a much-needed hug.

The condition of someone’s home doesn’t matter one bit when it comes to friendship.

Recently, there have been many well-written and well-meaning blog posts about the benefits of being messy. This one I just read  suggests that parents with homes like my friend Jenny’s are spending more time cleaning up after their kids than playing with them.

I bite my lip, twist my hair, pop my knuckles and invite all my other nervous tics over to play while I read articles of this nature; because while I applaud the effort to help people feel more comfortable with their imperfections, I worry. I worry that in an honest attempt to fight perfectionism,we are actually swinging the pendulum in the direction of its equally evil twin sister, judgmentalism.

Maybe that woman you know with an immaculate home isn’t trying to be perfect or upstage you. Maybe cleaning is her therapy like writing is mine. And maybe the woman with the disheveled living room isn’t lazy. Maybe she just prioritizes her day differently than you do yours.

The condition of your heart is what matters most when it comes to friendship. If your focus is on the person who lives in the home instead of on the ascetics of the home, you’re more likely to feel at ease.

And when your mind isn’t swirling with questions like …

Am I enough? Is she judging me? How does she do it all? What in the holy guacamole is under the T.V. stand?

you’re going to be better equipped to ask her the types of questions that help build friendship.

Let friendship be the star.

Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul. – Proverbs 27:9

*Jenny and Kathryn are actually based on four different real life friends of mine.