The truth is, our living is messy.
It isn’t the carefully selected photos we share on Facebook.
In the flurry of morning readying, I reach into the cabinet for a cereal bowl. A red-brown something has dried over the blue and purple flowers, and something tiny green and branching like a tree—something resembling a flattened piece of parsley, seems to have adhered to the edge of the blotch. Yuck.
I sit the dirty bowl on the counter and reach for another. The next one has the same rough, dried stain, this time around the rim. Chili, I suspect. Gross.
“Hey honey, did we turn on the dishwasher last night?” I call out into the other room, maybe up the stairs?
I slide open the utensil drawer and stare at a pile of spoons smudged and cloudy and clearly not clean, piled on top of the shiny ones. Great. We forgot to wash the dishes, and Adam emptied them and put them away anyway. Because that’s what he does. He lives routines and patterns and lists and schedules. Somehow he missed the point that the dishwasher cleans the dishes, that he puts them away because they are clean. I stand looking at the dirty bowls and spoons, wondering how and when I will find the rest of the unwashed dishes. It’s frustrating that we have to remember to teach every single step. I wonder if he even understands that people don’t eat off of dirty dishes. Or does he not really even know dirty for the problem it is? Dried-on food is, after all, not very Pinteresting.
Early morning and my hunger gnaws, and I have to consider the time. Everything has to happen on time. And here I am with something else to puzzle over, to figure out how to teach, to add to my list of what Adam needs to understand. Early morning staring at dull, ugly spoons and I already feel tired and not ready and not sure I want to be. It brings to mind a bit of Frost’s verse: But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep. I sigh, grabbing the pile of spoons and throwing them in the sink. I lift the bowls and fill them with water to soak the dried gunk. I will find the dirty dishes all day. It will be the messy blotch covering over my resolve. But really, it doesn’t have to be.
I am new to autism every day, even after thirteen years living and training through it, loving its strengths, sighing over its challenges. I would like to say we live in sweet, orderly moments. I would like to say that we breathe our triumphs. We’ve celebrated so many of those. But the truth is that our living often just feels messy and long and frustrating. Most of the time, it feels like I am struggling for every step. I often just feel soul-tired, worn down, and tender.
It isn’t polish that makes our living beautiful. But oh, it is beautiful.
Just a few hours after those dirty dishes, I run under bluest skies, thinking about how I will work in teaching Adam to identify clean and dirty, how I will fit in this new repetition, the showing. I am so caught up in it that I nearly miss the breeze and the wildflowers—pink, then violet, then happy yellow—sprinkled beside the road. I almost miss the turtle sitting still right near my foot fall trying hard to look like a rock, the way the grass and trees frame the curve of road, the way the sunlight makes the asphalt sparkle. Right now it’s time to see, I tell myself. It’s time to collect gifts. It’s time to give thanks. Our gratitude is a moment-by-moment choice, but not an easy one.
It’s a long road, and today I will run twenty miles and it will be messy. I’ve been on enough of these now to know. I have set aside the notion that I will at any time or in any way look like an Athleta model. I’m a marathon mom, after all, which means I often start weary and find myself sighing only six miles in, tired of pushing myself. For me, long runs are gritty, dirty, sweaty days when after about sixteen miles I finally lose track of everything along the way except the next quarter. I get frustrated with the part of me that wants to stop, the part of me that argues, Why are you doing this? You don’t have to, and I start talking to myself. Out loud. I finish empty, tender, exhausted, soaking wet, and better–better on the inside, uncluttered and carved clean by the hard effort. The messy living—not the put together, certain, shiny living—is the living that trains.
Three dark, desperate, grieving days preceded the Resurrection. Body-gripping pain precedes new birth. All our messy living precedes our triumphs. The inside of the cup and dish must be cleaned first, before the outside, otherwise maybe we look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean (Matthew 23:27). And it’s a clean vessel, a yielded and emptied jar He wants to fill with Himself (2 Corinthians 4:7). And it’s His filling, His use, His resurrecting that makes us stunning.
What is it that we’re trying to achieve by hiding the truth we all know, that our living is disheveled, misshapen, imperfect, cracked? His strength is seen in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And the thing He’s been whispering to me is that it’s He who’s meant to be seen (Colossians 3:3, John 3:30). And His training, His redeeming, His multiplying comes right in the middle of all our mess.
So, maybe it’s time to come clean, don’t you think?
Not to us, Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness (Psalm 115:1).