Embracing the Mess

I half listened as my 16 year old said, “Mom, I have a project for photography class and I  need to take a picture of you and dad in the kitchen. But you can’t clean it up and make it look all neat and tidy.”**

Suddenly I was paying attention.

I looked at my kitchen table which had become the landing place for not only random pieces of fruit and half-eaten birthday cake, but also index cards and hair ties, and other items that only revealed how busy and chaotic life had been over the last month.

I cringed a little and said, “I can’t clean this up?”

“No! I need it for my picture.”

I stared into Hannah’s eyes and asked, “And where is this picture going to be?”

“It will be in the art hallway, near the photography lab.”

I shrugged my shoulders, too tired to really care about whether a few students saw my messy kitchen and acquiesced. Hannah instructed me to sit at my computer and look like I was thinking about a lot and asked Steve to stand at the sink and wash dishes. She would take care of the rest.

Hannah has always been able to see what others don’t. When she was a little girl, we would run along the sidewalk playing some silly outdoor game and she would stop abruptly, insisting that I look at a treasure she spotted. At times she would get frustrated with me as she pointed, enthusiastically shouting, “See it, Mommy?” because I just couldn’t see “it” and had no idea what she was talking about. She would take my hand, forcing us both to crouch down until I finally saw the tiny lady bug or shining rock or caterpillar. I often stared at Hannah’s sweet face instead and then understood all that I was missing.

It is a beautiful gift my daughter shares with me, until she decides to use her camera to capture the state of my kitchen.

I rounded the corner at work last week, and noticed the photography teacher hanging the photography projects in the main hallway. My brain did a double take as it tried to process the fact that this was NOT the photography hallway.  She looked at me with a big smile and said, “There it is, Lori, embrace it.”  And I closed my eyes thinking about how just about everyone in the school passes this wall at some point in the day. We both started laughing, and I moaned, “Ok, this is not what I signed up for, just for the record. But I guess it is good to learn humility, right?”

About 45 minutes later, another teacher popped her head into my office chuckling, “I LIKE your kitchen!” I just shook my head and laughed, offering her a nice sarcastic thank you.

Not knowing that the messiness of our lives was on display in the busiest part of the school, my husband forwarded an article to me about Madison Holleran, a beautiful, smart, gifted young woman and athlete who took her own life in January of 2014. If you looked at Madison’s Instagram account, you would never guess that this young woman was struggling with deep depression and trying to figure out how to find her way to the surface again. It broke my heart to read her story. Her friends have started a campaign to stop all of the filtering we do on social media. Literally and figuratively.

So in memory of a beautiful life that ended too soon; In honor of Madison’s friends who are trying to find hope and encourage truth in the midst of their grief and pain; In honor of my three beautiful daughters whom I love beyond what I can express and all the ways I want them to know peace and grace and the freedom to make mistakes and be free from perfectionism, I post this picture today.

If I am honest, this is usually what my kitchen looks like most days. Especially this past month when weekends have been full, weekdays have been exhausting, and life has been demanding.

This is my kitchen.

It is the cleanest when guests come over or when we go out of town. (I have this strange need to make sure everything is organized before we leave to go somewhere else.) Even when it looks clean, if you open my drawers, I might cringe a little because they aren’t as organized as I would like them to be.

And when I walk into someone else’s home and it is spit-spot clean and organized and beautifully decorated, I always feel a little twinge of longing and wish my house resembled that just a little bit more.

I know Madison’s struggle was much deeper than just having a messy kitchen, but it still reminds me of how we all just want to appear like we are doing well. Like we have it all together. Like there aren’t days when I can’t wait to get home to curl up on the couch and forget my weariness. Or other days when I just want to get in my car and drive and not think about the fact that I am irritable and conflicted and anxious and overwhelmed.

We turned our air conditioning on the other day, and it didn’t work. Turned the outside water back on and one of the spigots was broken and needed a plumber. And to top it all off, I accidentally dropped an entire carton of eggs yesterday as we put away the groceries. My husband caught my eye as he heard me groan, and we just looked at each other, knowing that life feels hard right now.

None of these moments are tragic. The reality is that most are simply inconvenient, but the power of a pile of inconvenience is that it often reveals the deeper things that we are carrying, the things we would rather filter than show to those who love us the most. So as I looked up from the cracked eggs to my husband, I removed the filter and just let him hug me as I cried.  We talked about how uncertain so many things seem right now and I shared some of my fears, admitting how difficult it can be to trust God when a lot of things just don’t make sense.

And in the unfiltered uncertainty, I found deep comfort and grace as Steve and I knelt down together and cleaned up the broken eggs, right there in the middle of our very messy kitchen.



To learn more about the Life Unfiltered campaign, click here or search #lifeunfiltered on Instagram or Twitter.

**Two things to note about this photography project. Hannah’s pictures were based on the work of David Hilliard. You can learn more about his photography here. She also wanted me to mention that the photograph above is a copy  of her project, not her actual project and not the same quality as her original work.  (but still captures the mess quite well!)