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Last Sunday my friend D and I led the service at UUCA, on the theme of Embracing the Mess. D wrote a great scene in which our kids (and one bonus kids) demonstrated how to make a mess and we figured out how to deal with it. This was not much of a stretch for any of us.

A moment from our “Embracing the Mess” service on July 14.

If you’d like to watch the service, visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ and click on archives and click on the July 14, 2019 service.

Here’s my reflection from Sunday:

One of the reasons I became a Unitarian Universalist after spending many formative years as a Presbyterian was that I wanted more variety than the Bible seemed to offer. When I discovered that UUs looked to many sacred and secular texts as sources of inspiration, I was delighted. As a writer and reader, I love discovering wisdom from new people and places.

That said, I acknowledge that the Bible includes some great stories. They’re not always easy to understand, universal truths are embedded in those parables. My perspective on Jesus is that he was a kind, compassionate, and generous person and a powerful teacher. When I think about embracing the mess, I keep coming back to this story from the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Picture the scene. You have an unexpected celebrity guest—plus his entourage—and you’re working frantically in the kitchen to find something suitable to serve. You’re pouring chips and salsa into your best bowls. You’re searching for the corkscrew to open a bottle of sauvignon blanc. You’re preheating the oven to pop in some Trader Joe’s appetizers. 

And you’re doing it all by yourself, while your sister is in the other room laughing at your guest’s amusing anecdotes and not lifting a finger to help you. Maybe it’s not your sister, but your significant other or your roommate. Regardless, you’re growing increasingly frustrated at them for having a good time while you’re working your tush off.

I have a question for you. How many of are familiar with the enneagram? How many of you are type 2?

For those of you who don’t know the enneagram, it’s an ancient tool used to help us understand motivations and behaviors. The enneagram can be a useful way to examine the choices we make and help us to become emotionally healthier. 

Type 2 is known as the helper or the giver. Martha was likely a type 2. A bunch of guys show up on her doorstep and she immediately gets to work making dinner. There is a need to be met, and she assumes it is her responsibility to meet it. She does not understand why no one else is helping, because it is so obvious to herthat there is work to be done. 

I will confess that I am also a type 2. After years of emotional work, however, I would like to think I am a healthy 2. This means I would probably head to the kitchen to get snacks for Jesus and his friends, but then I would order pizza so I could join in the conversation sooner. I might ask the apostles to take everyone’s drink orders. 

Unhealthy 2s plow ahead with all the work themselves, becoming increasingly resentful. Healthy 2s will ask for help when they need it, or even decline a request that someone makes of them. My spiritual director calls this “the holy freedom to say no.” The enneagram provides a direction for each type to move toward in order to balance out unhealthy tendencies. For type 2s, we are guided toward 4, known as the romantic or the individualist. I suspect Mary in this story was a 4. When Jesus showed up at her house, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, which was sit and hang out with him. What could possibly be more important?

I can’t count the number of times when I was younger that I cleared the table and started doing dishes when I had friends over just to get the mess out of the way. And then missed out on time I could have spent having fun and laughing with people I loved. The dishes will always be there. I have learned that community, conversation, and connection are much more important. 

A couple months ago, a friend of mine from college emailed me to say he and family were going to be in town and wanted to get together. He asked if we wanted to meet at a restaurant, but I suggested they come to our house, knowing it would be more relaxing, and that the kids could play, and we would have more time to talk. He agreed, although he suggested we get takeout and he offered to bring wine and dessert. I ordered dinner from Bangkok 54 and we had a fabulous time, and I did very little work.   

Of course, I’m not saying you never have to clean your house, but that embracing the mess provides an opportunity to cultivate both connection and creativity. 

How many of you have ever lived in a house overrun by Legos?

This has been my house for the past decade. 

We have built Lego sets of a lunar lander, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, countless superheroes and villains and their vehicles, and many more. We have thousands of Legos that have been used to build fabulous creations even more imaginative than the sets you buy at the store. Everyone at our house is a builder, but Zeke in particular is on his way to becoming a master builder. Where I see Legos scattered all over the coffee table and the floor, he sees superhero hideouts and innovative spaceships and cars that can dive and fly and so many technologies that might actually come to fruition someday. I have no doubt that he could become an engineer and design the prototype for an actual car that flies.

Our house is also littered with overflowing bins of art supplies, books piled up next to densely packed bookshelves, and magazines with ideas for making new stuff out of old stuff you have lying around. Sure, sometimes I wish my house looked like something out of a magazine, where you’re sure no one actually lives there because there’s no stuff. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up the time our family spends making art, reading, and creating with everything that surrounds us. 

Embracing the mess opens up possibilities and allows for freedom. This can be risky. And liberating.

Both my kids attended AUCP, the phenomenal preschool located here at UUCA. After Zoe graduated and before Zeke started, AUCP launched a program called Timber Tuesday, where, every other week, a class spends the entire three-hour school day in the woods near Long Branch Nature Center. Rain or shine. I have never been an outdoorsy person, and I was skeptical about this at first, but AUCP’s director Susan Parker quickly sold me on the value of spending this time outside. Kids who struggled to conform to classroom expectations thrived outside when given plenty of space to explore. Kids with sensory or motor challenges pushed themselves to climb rocks and touch trees and splash in the creek. As a parent, one of the most important lessons I learned was that it’s ok to get messy. Just bring a change of clothes. Or be prepared to ride home in your underwear. 

I remember sometime after I had become a Timber Tuesday convert that my kids and I were out after a rainstorm. Instead of instructing my kids to avoid a puddle, I encouraged them to jump in it. They were astonished. 

They have certainly taken that encouragement to heart. Two weeks ago, our family was on vacation in Lewes, Delaware. One evening we went to the beach to watch the sunset. One minute we were walking with our toes in the water, and next thing I knew both of my kids were laughing and splashing, submerged up to their chests in the Delaware Bay, fully clothed. Then we went to get ice cream. Because why not?

Cleaning-out-the-RefrigeratorPeople can do anything. So why haven’t these things been invented? One would be immensely practical. The other more personally appealing to preserve my mental health.

Electronic Refrigerator Inventory System

There should be an interactive digital display on your fridge door that you can use to see what’s in your fridge and how long it’s been there and when it expires. You could scan all the items as you put them into the fridge, and the device would already be programmed with information about, say, how long strawberries stay fresh. You could also manually enter expiration dates, like on your milk. The device would remember everything you put in, so when you first get it you might have a lot of data entry to do, but after that it would easily recognize what you’re buying. Then when you are wondering what you can have for dinner, all you have to do is look at your display and see that there’s leftover Thai from two nights ago and enough vegetables to make a salad. When you’re getting ready to go to the grocery store, you could print out–or upload to your phone–a list of what you need, based on what you usually need and is missing from or low in the fridge. For bonus points, the device could interact with a cooking app and suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand. Or tell you that you have five ingredients you need for tacos, except the meat, so you should pick some up. Cleaning the fridge would be easy because you’d know exactly how long things had been in there even before the mold starts to grow! There is so much potential here.

NPR (or other news outlet) Warning Lights

Sometimes when you’re in the car with your kids and you turn on NPR and the first words you hear are “mass shootings” or “bodies of children” or “murder” and you have to switch the station very, very fast. Or even if your kids aren’t in the car but it’s 7:30 in the morning and you can’t stomach a report about terrorist attacks, children being sold into slavery, or anyone being shot, and you have to put on the soundtrack to If/Then, which can be kind of wrenching as well but at least you know what’s coming and it’s fictional. Anyway, there should be a little warning light indicator on your radio so you can turn it on with no volume and if there’s a horrifying story including any of the above words or others I could list but won’t because they will make me depressed, a red light would illuminate. If the story may be mildly disturbing but not heart-wrenching, such as unemployment numbers, Congressional ineptitude, or negligent landlords, the light is yellow. And, if you’re really lucky, the light will be green when they’re interviewing singers, athletes, or writers; sharing the triumphant story of someone’s success; or reporting on a breakthrough in medical technology. Not to say that you can never listen to bad news, but sometimes it’s just too much. This would save millions of listeners from potential anguish as they drive.

If you can invent these things, let me know. I’d be happy to brainstorm with you and get in on the ground floor.

After many months, perhaps even years, of wanting to hire someone to clean our house (because, despite good intentions, we are either too busy, too lazy, or too sensitive to dust to be very effective at it ourselves) we hired Amelia (and her husband, it would appear) to help us out. She and her husband came for the first time yesterday and our house has never, in the five years we’ve lived here, been so clean. They worked extremely hard and with excellent results.

Are people who clean houses constantly judging their customers, wondering why they aren’t better at cleaning up after themselves? Do they resent what they’re doing, or are they glad for the opportunity to earn money, or just indifferent to the societal ramifications and just doing their job?

Do they inspect all your belongings and learn things about you that you wouldn’t want them to know? Do they see things you didn’t realize you left out that are inappropriately personal? Do they make inferences about your personality, your morality, your family life based on your stuff?

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