It’s the time of year for birthday parties and barbecues. Every weekend seems to have options and RSVPs and quick stops at Target to grab a toy for a 5 year old you hope is into the same thing your 6 year old likes.
A few weekends ago we had a bunch of friends over to help us inaugurate this year’s grilling season. In my imagination, we would use this event as good reason to get the back patio and the driveway totally clear of the various forms of debris which have formed since last summer. Boxes need storing, leftover crap from flooring projects need dumping, yard waste, trash, etcetera, etcetera, just sitting there waiting for orders. Saturday and Sunday would be Clean Up days and Monday would be Relax and Enjoy Day. We had a decent list running, but two days? It didn’t seem like a crazy expectation.
Except that normal family functions do not cease during the weekend. Lunches, naps, not-napping crankiness, grocery trips, and all the living chop two days into mere hours pretty quickly. It’s basically a Law of Nature which I fail – always – to memorize.
Additionally, the AC in the main family car broke which meant windows down and sweaty, irritable humans crammed together under straps. And as most of these things go, fixing it took exponentially longer than we could have guessed. So forget Saturday and Sunday. Sanity and not-killing-children-in-overheated-van come first.
All this meant that the bulk of the pre-party work fell on the day of our gathering. Predictably, about two hours before people were supposed to show up the frustration began to overwhelm me.
Now about this gathering: it was an extremely low-pressure gig. We do not host royalty here (though, friends, you’re all queenly to me). Nobody coming to my house expects to be greeted with swans and harps. The fact that our yard would have boxes stacked up against the house and a pile of yard waste in the driveway and random kid crap everywhere would be neither a shock nor a deterrent to the people who love us and want to hang out.
But I had this idea in my head. And telling my brain that her really pretty thought was simply not going to manifest into reality was a non-starter.
Fine said Brain, chaos wins again. I cannot keep this damn house in order because all these children you thought were such a great idea are tearing it apart by the beams. That husband you thought you’d be so happy with spent all morning doing things his way so nothing is the way you wanted it. You will just have to embrace the misery of your too-small, cluttered, semi-hazardous home, girlie, because everything sucks and I am sitting this one out.
As my inner dialogue spiraled into nihilism, my husband noticed I was unhappy. Because – particularly to the man who has known me half my life – I am not subtle.
“What’s wrong?” he asked and I gave him a quick, honest reply about feeling overwhelmed and continued working. “Let’s take a minute,” he said, so I looked at him.
He looked back with genuine concern. I told him how I was feeling and he listened. He reminded me of all the good and true things: everything is okay, the point of having people we love over is to connect with them, not impress them with our pristine house, blah blah blah.
I knew it, but it didn’t matter. My emotions were twisting me up. I sat down on our bed where we are learning how to find the heart when the mind gets to spinning. “Help me think through this,” I pleaded.
So he did. He helped me remember that this day, like every day, has all the possibilities in it, but only a few of them get to live. There are always things to do, messes to clean, appointments to keep, meals to make. There are always more tasks than time. Perfection is always elusive, like a mirage, it’s unattainable. There is no limit to the preparation if the goal is to get it just right.
“The joy has to be in the process,” he said and finally my brain leaned in. He was right.
If I wait until I can set the perfect stage, I will miss whatever iteration of my family is playing right now. Every day we are different, my tiny newborn sits up now and soon he’ll crawl. My oldest son is asking more questions. My husband and I hardly resemble the teenagers who tangled their lives to each other however-many-years-ago. If I don’t watch my babies while we pick up dog poop in the backyard or sweep the kitchen for the 3rd time in a day, they’ll grow up while my head is down.
This is all of it. This is raising kids and healing a marriage and finding faith and seeking justice. The work is never done so the rewards must be collected as we go, the way my son sticks bottle caps in his pockets as he adventures in the park. We must find joy and peace and rest in the chaos or we will never, ever find it. This is hard-earned. I know this deep in my bones.
In my backyard, my boys found a bunch of worms that brought smiles to their faces, squeals to their voices I never want to forget. But look around: even on the frontlines of evil in the form of an inhumane policy separating families at the border, there is generosity enough to give us hope, to let us close our eyes and sigh and catch our breaths and keep pushing; enough of a taste to keep us hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
I stood up, hugged this man with whom I have done so much work, and my mind rejoined my heart. This is it. We get one shot. Let’s go enjoy our mess.
The barbecue was – of course – just as fun as it would have been without the yard waste. Our friends were their beautiful, gracious, wonderful selves and we enjoyed good food while our kids giggled and ran beneath a sunset I could not have written on any list. We’ll get to the boxes, but I refuse – with some help – to miss the beauty.