more than the mess


the picture on the left are cups are on my bathroom counter.  and no, they’re not for some science experiment i’m doing with my kids.  they’ve been there for over a week. jose has been seeing how many days it will take before i actually do something about them and the funny thing is that i just keep adding to them.  the dirty coffee cups & empty water glasses are multiplying right before our very eyes. and the fuzz, well, it’s starting to grow.   i don’t know why it’s so hard for me to just take them downstairs and put them in the sink, but i have some kind of block and it just doesn’t seem to bother me until a few more accumulate. then i hit my limit, rush them downstairs in a huff, and start the madness again the next day.

the picture on the right is my little “nook” in the kitchen where i keep stuff.  hmmm, notice a pattern?  when people come over, i always tell them that this is a metaphor for my life.  the messiness, the disorder, and the funny twist that if i need to find something in that pile, i always can. 

i used to be more organized in pretty much every area of my life.  i’d stay up until 2 in the morning getting things done night after night after night.    i was just more on top of my game.  but the funniest part of that season is that inside, i was the most messed up that i had ever been.  hiding, faking & pretending, stuffing, self-condemning, the whole thing.   i was the good christian woman to the ‘nth degree on the outside but inside, ummm, not so good.   but you could never tell because things on the outside looked so squared away.   

i think that is very indicative of the spiritual life for some.  we value “neat and tidy”, organized, efficient, good jobs with steady paychecks, clean cut-ness, church attendance, a few spiritual words here and there, a clean garage.   get your house in order first.   think about it for just a moment: isn’t that what a lot of churches are perpetuating?  look at any elder board at a white suburban evangelical church.  a lot of boys with good careers & a track record of spiritual behaviors that automatically bestows upon them the title of having “spiritual maturity”.  (of course, there are so many wonderful fabulous incredible white male elders in the church, deeply committed to serving their communities so don’t get mad at me for picking on them, i am just trying to raise awareness of this point:  what is the measure of spiritual maturity? good jobs, steady paychecks or the ability to be in intimate relationship with people?)   

i recently heard a story of a pastor who told his congregation his finances weren’t properly in order so if he didn’t get them shipped back into shape in the next two months he’d need to step down.  hearing this made me feel sad because it is so contrary to everything i believe about leadership in the kingdom.  i am not saying finances aren’t important but i am saying “is that the measure of a person?”  what if someone’s finances are kind of messy but they are kind, loving, ego-less, and serve the poor?  or is it okay to have your finances squared away, buttoned down tight, but you are self-centered and arrogant and everyone thinks your strength and efficiency is a sign of good spiritual leadership?    why are “duties” always more valued then relationships? 

organized checkbooks do not mean anything to me.   clean bathroom counters do not mean anything to me.  saying the right things does not mean anything to me. 

my nook, my bathroom counter, my car–yep, i could keep them cleaner and more organized, no doubt.  but is that the measure of who i am as a person?  does it mean i am a sloth?  or does it just mean i am a human being,  a person capable of good and bad, sometimes lazy & sometimes get-it-done, a person who sometimes hits it right and sometimes screws it up, a person whose life and story is messy and beautiful at the same time. 

cleaning up the mess won’t clean up my heart. 

so here’s what i’m trying:  to lean into my humanity.  and as i have been doing this, i am more peaceful somehow in some wacky ways that defies my christian values of put-together-ness.    i am learning to just let it all hang out and try to live from a more integrated place where my life is scattered and crazy but my goal isn’t to try to force it to be something that it’s not.  i will admit,  it’s sometimes kind of embarrassing.  the other night at our house of refuge i said “well you all you know how i’m a little scattered….” and my friend sam responded with “a little? more like a lottle!”  i am a lottle scattered these days.  my nook is representative of how i sometimes feel. i can never catch up.  hit it in the zone.  my to do list is too long.  i have mouths to feed, places to be, a community to nurture.  and sometimes it all feels a little too messy and undone. 

but i’m not cleaning up my act anytime soon, i can tell. maybe that’s why i leave my cups on my bathroom counter for so long–subtly i am reminding myself that a clean bathroom counter doesn’t mean anything. (i can always use that excuse–hey jose, i need to practice my spiritual  metaphor!)  but truly, it is a reminder that who i am has nothing to do with my ability to make myself look good.   Jesus cares about my heart, the story he’s telling in my life through the good, the bad, the ugly.   he’s about redemption and that doesn’t necessarily mean “once dirty, suddenly clean.” two months and i’m shipped into shape.   it sure hasn’t looked like that for me, and places he’s redeemed, well, they’re still not the prettiest places in the world, all shiny and bright, but his touch, his mark still manages to seep out somehow.  

here’s to moldy cups and piles in the kitchen! 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy ~

    You are dispelling the myth of the Christian life. Thank God, because it only leads to guilt, or arrogance, or neurosis. Honesty on the other hand, leads to refreshment, healing, and grace.

    I think all of the cups were kinda colorful. The nook on the other hand… was there a desk under there? 🙂

  • I can so resonate with this. I am the one driven crazy by the “cups” in my life. I don’t do well with things undone – but it is part of what has been unraveling over the last six months.
    I grew up with a mentally ill mother – and things always had to appear normal even when they weren’t. The more dysfunctional other parts of my life got – the more important keeping the house orderly had become. Wouldn’t you know – I married a guy who is completely content with disorder and chaos all around. What might the lesson be in this? Two fallen people fall in love and manage to live together for twenty years without bloodshed and learn a lot about love in the process.

  • The ‘get your house in order’ thing is a challenge for me, too. I grew up in a Cleaver-esque household – a place for everything and everything in its place. Yet it seems that the more my creativity blossomsand the more real I am, the less organized I am.

    I’m stuck on the image of the pastor who will supposedly step down if his finances are not in order in 2 months. What kind of message does that send to others who are trying to get things in order, yet can’t lick it in 8 short weeks? Am I a failure if I don’t eradicate by debt by some tidy date? If my garage is not cleaned out and organized by May 1st? I think not.

  • Thanks Kathy. Dispelling myths again!

    Some parts of my house are tried to be kept presentable – the living room, kitchen and the bathroom that visitors see…but much of the rest of it is cluttered, messy or dirty at ALL times. So what? Will you stop being my friend if I have a 8-inch pile of filing on the floor by my desk, if there is a mountain of laundry on my bed or dog hair on my carpet?

    My neighbor has a sign that says “Please excuse the mess, we live here.” Amen. When my kids are grown and gone I will keep a clean house. For now, I’m lucky to have (relatively) clean kids!

  • Anne Lamott 3:16 says, “Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.” (Anne LaMott, pg. 28 of Bird by Bird)

  • “A clean house is a sign of a boring life.”

    That’s why I say, Hire a housecleaner.

    this message brought to you by Pam’s Cleaning Service, I Clean so You Don’t Have To!

    (great effin post!)

  • glenn – i think it’s a desk but i’m not entirely sure anymore it’s been so long!

    jewlsintexas – it’s hard when we have learned to control for so long to let go! i can relate!

    amy – i know, i am so irritated by the thought of how simple life change seems to be for some. i think it’s a farce but who knows, maybe it’s possible for some??? not me, that’s for sure. it was great hanging out on sunday!

    erin – i agree, there are so many more important things than a clean house…relationships are always the priority and a lot harder to do than vacuum

    beth – anne lamott is my hero!!!

    pam – before 9/11 (when jose used to make a lot more money being a pilot) i had a lovely housecleaner who came every monday while i was in class and i have to admit, it was glory!

  • I definitely have the messy gene. My parents hoped that I would grow out of it, but here I am, 31 and still the same.

    You know you are messy when your two year old opens the coat closet, throws in his shoes and coat and then pushes the door closed with all his might to stop all the other shoes from falling out and then turns around with a beaming smile “I hung my coat and shoes” .


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