How To Clean Up A Big Mess

bill the butcher

Around here we call the cleaning lady “Bill the Butcher”, made famous by Daniel Day Lewis in the film Gangs of New York. That’s him above. And though the petite cleaning lady who visits nightly doesn’t resemble him in the slightest, she is as hard on dirt and dust in this office as Bill was on poor Leonardo Dicaprio. She stands no more than five feet tall, but I tell you I’m flat-out scared of crossing her. My fear was borne out of her telling me that I could not use the 409 disinfectant to clean my desk (which is my end of week ritual), and then she proceeded to hide it from me inside of her large gray bucket. And my fear only grew from there as morning after morning I have strewn into the office and found my desk in absolute disarray. Garbage cans stick out from under the desk, post-it notes are scattered, and staplers are turned upside down. A turned-upside-down stapler looks like a dead animal with its legs pointed to the sky. I read between the lines, and I know she means me harm. The way my pen cup sits isolated all by itself, teetering on the edge of my desk, is enough to tell me so.

But more than anything, it’s the paper mis-handling that irritates me the most. I leave my papers in neat little stacks at the end of each day, turned perpendicular so as not to blend in with one another. But come morning time, the legal papers are flirting with the spreadsheets; the spreadsheets are getting intimate with the mail; and the mail is dry-humping the materials for whatever meeting comes next. It’s a mess! If she even suspects there’s dirt hiding on your desk, it’s on. She’s unpredictable and dangerous, I tell you. 

Truth be told, I am convinced that there is a wild cleaning woman inside all of us – or maybe just me – who occasionally slips past security and makes an absolute mess of our lives. She looks helpful and she’s dressed in a cute white uniform so you trust her, but you shouldn’t. The moment she convinces you to relax your grip on all the work you’ve done – the prayer, the faith, the consistent study time, the gathering of like-minded Believers -, that crazy cleaning lady charges into your space and throws your papers – your proof of what God has already done in your life, your testimony – up into the air. And the mess lands everywhere. And we waste time picking it up off of the floor.

So, newsflash: the crazy cleaning lady inside of me escaped, and she went BUCK WILD a week or so ago. Like, straight up. Everything was in neat little piles – a neat little marriage, a neat little job, a neat little (but growing) ministry momentum, and on and on. And then she got her hands on it, and things got ugly.

It started small. It always does. I had let resentment over some unresolved issues in my marriage develop a root of bitterness in my heart. Then I worsened it by giving my husband the silent treatment. And finally, when I did speak, an argument set a series of terrible decisions into motion. And when I say into motion I actually mean motion—as in the bus that I hopped on when I figured I’d had just about all I could take. Every piece of advice about what to do when conflict arises in marriage went out the window. I could hear a mature voice somewhere in the background of my mind trying to give me advice as my inner cleaning lady let loose. Oh hey, maturity. What’d you say? Mature adults who take vows aren’t allowed to hop buses and run away? WELL WHO ASKED YOU?

So off I went. I made a real mess of things. I bought a one way ticket (for dramatic effect, of course) to Rhode Island and ran to the arms of my cousin-friend. (Yes, I say cousin-friend because if left alone, neither word properly defines our relationship. I’m Southern. So hush.) She was in stealth mode, and for a few moments I felt like Jennifer Lopez in Enough when she escapes her psychotic husband. Minus the bad wig and the kid in the car seat. And for a few moments it was exciting.

Until it wasn’t.

I wasn’t away for more than an hour before I asked for his forgiveness and bought an immediate return ticket.

So let’s insert the obvious moral here — What I did is NOT ok. DO NOT leave home when you’re mad. Period. You have two choices: a) pray or b) nap. Keep. It. Simple. And save yourself the stomach ache from eating McDonald’s, the 10 hours total of bus travelling time, wasted money, and injuring your spouse.

I’m so far from perfect. I’m in love with God and want so desperately to be supernatural, only to find myself doing many natural (read: dumb) things. But despite that, I press on. I’m the very essence of the ministry worker Paul described in Ephesians 3:7-8 when he said–

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

You know what Paul is really saying there? He’s saying: I WAS A HOT MESS. AND GOD STILL CHOSE TO USE ME.

And if you really want to drill down and make it personal, he’s saying: I used to engage in filthy habits, the least of which was wearing booty shorts I bought from Abercrombie and Fitch; demoralize myself and my value, drink like a sailor, smoke weed, smoke my cigarettes, smoke other people’s cigarettes, curse, lie, cheat, steal, gossip, mock, manipulate (everyone), envy and more. But God saw that I could be used.

I feel you, Paul… And I feel small for reverting back to some of those habits when I was too tired to cope last weekend. I can’t even blame the cleaning lady.  That was all me. Or rather, what the Bible calls the “old man”, the person who existed before Christ came to live within us. (I hate you, Old Man.)

But there was light at the end of the Lincoln tunnel when I got back to New York. Like the Prodigal Son, I had a few “Aha” moments during the Runaway/Repent/Recognize occasion. They’re nothing special, nothing any Christian brother or sister who’s got half a brain hasn’t already thought up. But here they are, for you, because we’ve got to know we’re not the only ones dealing with hurt and fighting the flesh. Vaguely, in this order, I thought:

  • I’m not a hot mess. I was. But I was saved. By grace, and through faith.
  • If I’m not a hot mess, I shouldn’t act like one. This lifestyle doesn’t fit me anymore. Did it ever?
  • I can’t be promoted into my full destiny until I’m honest with myself about what my areas of change are. All of them. Anger is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface it appears we’ve got a big block of insecurity and control issues, and a whale made out of WHINING just swam by and waved at me with its BIG WHINING FIN.
  • God uses available people, not people that are full of themselves. I want to be available so I must rid myself of What I Want and What I Think. Oh, and it looks like The Way I’d Do It has gotta go as well. WELL HECK.
  • Empty me of my weaknesses, and until You do…
  • Perfect each one with Your endless bounty of strength and mercy.

I read a lot of blogs and books on Christianity – you see that Lord, when I’m not messin’ up I’m readin’ about ‘cha – and what I can’t get over is how good they are. But that’s in part because they’re being told in hindsight. They’re LEARNED LESSONS, not lessons in progress. God is by definition good, so when we look back, yes, most things turned out for our good.

This here blog is the opposite. It’s a totally honest, open, simple work in progress. We’re not looking back, we’re looking IN. It is an active telling of my life, my manuscript for the day when I stand before a crowd to teach. I’ll teach on the same message my former partner in crime Paul gave you: Jesus did it all, and now I am a slave to His message. An unworthy one by anyone else’s standards, but a messenger all the same.

What’s more, I can’t even describe what relief it is to know that I’m still in right-standing with God, still loved and thought about by Him, and still purposed for great things. It’s not about our “work” or our “mistakes”, it’s about making a decision to believe He has everything we need, and has corrected all that was wrong.

I’ll leave you with one last truth: …I never want to tell you the truth. Like most people, it’d suit me just fine if you thought my life was perfect. (Please, please spread that around ok? Better yet, get t-shirts made.) I sit for at least twenty minutes before each post sipping on a 5 Hour Energy bottle, trying to make each story sound pleasant. I bite all my nails off until there is nothing pretty left. Only raw, ugly truth.

But God always pushes me, and reassures me that it’s ok to tell it like it is. I don’t know who this is for – a wife/husband at the end of their rope or armed with a Megabus ticket, a man confused about his sexuality, or a woman who is too scared to admit she’s messed up yet again trying to do what she thought she heard God tell her to do – but I’m singing this song for you. The next time you think you’re the only one, you just send your old pal here a note and I’ll point you to ANY ENTRY IN THIS BLOG.

We’ll go through it together. We’ll surrender. We’ll walk in love. We’ll actively live abundant lives filled with trials and triumphs, and we’ll share them with one another ok?

In the end, it’s all good. Ain’t that some good hindsight?


One thought on “How To Clean Up A Big Mess

  1. Thank you, friend, for this. God hit me over the head several times in a very good way through your words. He also comforted me more than I can express through your honesty and openness about messing up, telling me that I am not the only one, and reminded methat it is not a deal-breaker when I do. GOOOOOOD stuff.

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