Meditations On a Messy Life

You know those people who always seem to have it all together?  They look great, their children are well behaved and dressed in darling outfits, their homes are decorated and lovely, and life seems to be going along swimmingly?

I used to aspire to be like that, but that doesn’t seem to be God’s plan for me.  It’s not that I’m admitting defeat or saying that I’m giving up on a tidy life, rather I’m accepting that our path is messy.

When we love people, we invite their brokenness and mess into our lives. Mess is inconvenient; it takes our time, energy, and sometimes money to fix it.  Despite our efforts, the mess cannot always be fully contained. It spills over and touches the people who dare to stand near.

Let me offer a few examples from my own life.  We lived in Colorado for six years prior to moving to Idaho. During those years I suffered from an autoimmune disorder.  I had many medical appointments, took medication that made me feel a bit crazy, gave birth to two babies, was hospitalized with a blood clot, ruptured a disc (requiring surgery) during Annarose’s birth, had surgery again (with complications), and so much more.  This all happened while Russ was adjusting to his first university faculty position.

My life was messy.

My disorder finally went into remission and we moved to Idaho.  Nobody here knew me as the woman who was “always sick” or “needed a lot of help.”  I loved it.  I was free from that old life and had the rare chance to start over.  Our life was good in so many ways – we had a new home, new church, new friends.  I enjoyed homeschooling my children and they were thriving.  I had two flares of my blood disorder – one quite severe – but we made it through.

Then God called us to adopt our children – and life got messy again.

We became needy.  We couldn’t manage alone.  I determined that if somebody offered help, I would always answer “Yes.”  I’m not the friend I used to be.  I rarely host guests for dinner, I rarely take a meal to somebody with a new baby, my house is no longer tidy, my children are not always well-behaved (and that is putting it mildly). In short, my life is messy.

God knows what we need.  He knows what we can manage and what we can’t.  Best of all, He never leaves us.

I yearn for a tidy life; it suits me. 

I feel comfortable with tidy. I want to be the woman who has it all together, who drops off muffins an hour after a new baby is born, whose children have beautifully braided hair and matching Easter dresses, who mails birthday cards on time and answers emails before they are weeks old.  But that isn’t the life God has for me, at least not right now.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever see that life again, and my heart hurts thinking about it.

Yet, I want what God wants.  I want to lay down my life to do the work He has for me.  Will this bring pain into my life?  Yes, it already has.  Is it worth it?  Yes, and yes again.  I have a front row seat to the healing power of God.

My life may not always be pretty, and sometimes I worry about the future. I miss the life I used to have, but when I think about Jesus, my heart is easier and my burden is lighter.

My life may not be pretty – but I pray that it is beautiful to the One who matters most.

Lisa

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

59 Comments

  1. Amy
    March 25, 2010

    AMEN!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Linda
    March 25, 2010

    You put words to my heart- thank you!

    Reply
  3. Tisha
    March 25, 2010

    I NEEDED to hear this today. I need to hear this every day. As always, spoken by you with such grace. Thank you Lisa.

    Reply
  4. Katie
    March 25, 2010

    Love this!

    Reply
  5. Lisa H.
    March 25, 2010

    This is one of my favorite posts ever…THIS is my life and keeping it real! :o) I used to be a LOT more of the person you've described as "tidy" and people would seek me out for my opinions on decorating, clothes, etc…. I think some people thought I was much "cooler" then and wonder what happened to me and which is the "real" me..Somedays, *I* miss my life the way it was. But I think THAT life was a whole lot more about making *me* look good, instead of living a life worthy of the One who called me…I'm trying to focus on that now and I think the loss I feel for the old me is part of counting the cost of following Jesus for me. Hard stuff, real stuff, but IMPORTANT stuff….

    Reply
  6. Donna
    March 25, 2010

    Thanks!

    I like to think that, just like when I do a cross stitch design, that yes, all the colors are beautiful, but it is the black stitching that really makes the picture stand out. It is what finishes the picture. Without it, it is pretty, but to be made beautiful you need the black stitching.

    Though we may want life to be all pretty colors, it is the hard stuff that makes us what we are becoming!!

    Thanks for your encouragement to so many through you words you share here!!!!

    Delighting in Him

    Reply
  7. April
    March 25, 2010

    Oh gosh how we all echo you Lisa! I love how you said you hope 'it is beautiful to the One who matters'-it's what we should all hope for.

    Reply
  8. staci
    March 25, 2010

    Thank you Lisa. This resonated with me as well.

    Reply
  9. lisa
    March 25, 2010

    Love this! I was wondering today… "Do all those other Mom's of big families feel like their kitchen is never clean longer than an hour?"
    Love my messy life!

    Reply
  10. Melinda
    March 25, 2010

    Beautiful post Lisa! Love it when others are so open and honest with their lives. Thanks for always sharing your heart and wisdom!

    Reply
  11. neely
    March 25, 2010

    love it. love your heart and your family! miss hanging out!

    Reply
  12. Lori in KY
    March 25, 2010

    Yep, that's my heart, too…Thank you for articulating it.

    Reply
  13. Ana
    March 26, 2010

    Thank you for sharing this post! It describes my life too. I am a stay at home mom with a 3 year old (adopted from Russia with special emotional needs) and a 15 month old daughter, and my house is total chaos most of the time.

    I LOVED the end of your post. That is exactly how I feel too. It's hard, but it's worth it, and I try to stay focus on Jesus. May He bless all of us who relate to this post!!!

    Reply
  14. Chantelle
    March 26, 2010

    I sit here with teary eyes because this is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. BLESS YOU for sharing it and making me feel less alone! (((hug))) As a homeschooling mom to 5 adopted children, some with special needs, I share these feelings 100% and was feeling guilty just this afternoon for some of these very things. Thank you! Share more!

    Reply
  15. Jennifer P
    March 26, 2010

    Matching dresses? How about matching socks or no socks at all which is more likely at our house. Thanks for inserting real life. You are right, it's all worth it.

    Reply
  16. Robin
    March 25, 2010

    Love, love this post!

    Reply
  17. Hollie
    March 26, 2010

    Lisa – Thank you so much for your beautiful honesty. I look forward to reading your blog everyday because it is so real. Other blogs I read make me feel like everyone has that "neat life". I start to feel so inadequate with my mess. I start to feel like I'm the only one who doesn't have it ll together. Bless you and your beautiful family. Your message is such a blessing to me.

    Reply
  18. shirley
    March 26, 2010

    You spoke to my heart today and I am grateful for your wisdom. Thank you , Lisa!

    blessings,
    shirley

    Reply
  19. Karen
    March 26, 2010

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog! This post spoke to my heart and I really needed to hear it! I feel all of this and more. Thank you for sharing… helpful to read what my heart feels. Thank you~

    Reply
  20. beth
    March 26, 2010

    You always are ministering to me through your writing. You may not have a typical ministry, but it is one just the same. I love when God uses a creative and fresh way to reach people. He is doing that with you and your blog as well as your relationships with your husband and children.
    I am a lover of order as well. Some day our children will be grown, our homes will be quiet and orderly-and I know I will miss this time… just not everything;)
    Father God; bless Lisa and her family. Give her great faith and endurance during this time when so many depend on her. Grant her peace as she and her husband seek and depend on You. In Your name Jesus.

    Reply
  21. Paula
    March 26, 2010

    You said what I feel so much better than I have been able to articulate it… thank you. 🙂

    Reply
  22. holly
    March 26, 2010

    that hurt and felt so good all at the same time….
    ….lots of praying today for this girl

    Reply
  23. Andrea
    March 26, 2010

    Wow! Amen and Amen! Needed that one! Thank you! :o)

    Reply
  24. connie
    March 26, 2010

    LISA
    You are
    Investing Precious Moments,
    Lending Hope to hopeless,
    Gifting Courage to discouraged.
    I have received your Beautiful Offering.
    Thankyou

    Reply
  25. Stephanie
    March 26, 2010

    Thank you for this post. It was exactly what I need to read. I have been struggling for quite sometime. This past year we brought two boys home who "NEED" alot. I have had alot of health problems that require medications that make me sicker and crazy. We moved away from all of our support systems to my husband's first job post school. Our life is beyond messy. I am tired of "needing" things. I want to be there to help others. I want my house to look clean and orderly again. I want a life of order. I long for planned, orderely, and clean life. That is where I too am most comfortable. However, currently, We survive minute to minute. Any well laid plans are usually tossed aside if the boys aren't coping or if I have another flare of sickness. I needed to hear what you said – because I have been struggling to reconcile myself to this life of mess and chaos and embrace it as long as this is what is needed.

    Reply
  26. Sarah
    March 26, 2010

    AMEN Again! I sometimes think of what my life would be if I just had two cute little kids and how easy it would be (I have five, one adopted from foster care and one adopted from Haiti). But…easy doesn't equal good and hard doesn't equal bad. It isn't pretty, but it's my life and I choose to be joyful whatever the circumstances (most days).

    Reply
  27. Joelle
    March 26, 2010

    Lisa, from one who knows you–you accomplish incredible things (messy house or not). Some of us never had the gift of order in their life to begin with even with a small family. Thanks for reminding us that what Jesus sees is what counts.

    Reply
  28. Chris
    March 26, 2010

    Oh, Lisa. You spoke to my soul today! God allowed you to reach out to so many through this post. Thank you for writing it from your heart. Thanks for feeling the freedom of living your “messy” life and not trying to be something you aren’t. God does give us the strength to live a life INSIDE OUT and the world thinks we are nuts and a problem but God thinks it’s beautiful and that is ALL that matters! Wish you could be my mentor! 🙂 -Chris

    Reply
  29. Brianna
    March 26, 2010

    Oh Lisa this is so beautiful and so wise. I too often mentally beat myself up for not having people over for dinner more or for not taking meals to new moms (just recently there were several women at church who had babies and I didn't make a thing)…yet I know that I am where God wants me to be. That not only can I NOT do it all, but I am not CALLED to do it all. My children need me and having five small children just means not doing certain other things. I think the reason I am so hard on myself for not doing the other things is that I'm prideful.

    But God is good, and He will equip me to do the things He's asking me to do. Somehow I know there should be freedom in this, so if I'm feeling weighted down, I'm probably looking at it wrong. So thank you for this amazing reminder. Your family is so precious!

    Reply
  30. Heather
    March 26, 2010

    Thank you…your honesty is so encouraging and echoes what I feel today too. I am not who I used to be..and some days I long for it to be the way it used to be but I'm so thankful too for the new journey I've been called to. I'm tired and life is messy..thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.

    Heather mom to 7 kids…4 through the miracle of adoption (one still in process w/ paperwork)

    Reply
  31. Leighann
    March 26, 2010

    Thank you for your transparency. I relate to this on so many levels. What a great reminder of what is important.

    Reply
  32. MaryF
    March 26, 2010

    Sigh. Tear. Thank you! And to all you other ladies out there with your responses of Amen. Sigh. Tear. Thank you too!!! I'm a young mom about to get a messier life and grieving the loss of my neat one. But definitely wanting that front row seat to the redemption of our great God!!!

    Reply
  33. Jen S.
    March 26, 2010

    Lisa,

    Great post! My orderly life completely changed when we brought our daughter home in January. I needed to hear this today.

    Reply
  34. Julie
    March 26, 2010

    As I sat her in the chaos for a small break God must have known I needed to read your words. Thanks for keeping it real!

    Julie

    Reply
  35. Anna
    March 26, 2010

    Thank you sharing Lisa! Even though we have only met you once, you are one of my heros. God bless you!

    -Anna

    Reply
  36. Susan PD
    March 26, 2010

    Awesome as usual….

    Reply
  37. carla
    March 26, 2010

    How refreshing to hear this from somebody that looks like they have it all together on their blog! This is reality and it's nice to hear there are others out there who are experiencing the same thing. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don't say, "I would feel much better if my house was in order", but the issues that need to be dealt with, are being dealt with. I wish I could reach out more too right now, but still adjusting to adopting two older children from ET and have 3 bio, it's all crazy and time goes by before I know it and I feel like such a horrible friend and neighbor. I hope these people understand and give our family grace for now. 🙂

    Reply
  38. Joelle
    March 26, 2010

    The cross and difficulties aren't the loves ones but hardships that sometimes come along with. I read this in an email from someone who is dealing with his wife's decreasing mental and physical health as they age. She chose this as her thanks to the One who helps her through. Whether it be adoption, old age, griefs over wandering children, or whatever I like your sentiment, Lisa, of caring mostly that Jesus see our lives as beautiful.

    THE CROSS IS NOT GREATER" by Ballington Booth

    The cross that he gave may be heavy, but it ne're outweighs His grace,
    The storm that I fear'd may surround me, But it ne're excludes His face.

    The thorns in my path are not sharper, Than composed His crown for me,
    The cup that I drink not more bitter than he drank in Gethsemane,

    The light of His love shineth brighter, As it falls on paths of woe,
    The toil of my work groweth lighter, As I stoop to raise the low,

    His will I have joy in fulfilling, As I'm walking in His sight,
    My all to the blood I am bringing, It alone can keep me right.

    The cross is not greater than His grace. The storm cannot hide His blessed face,
    I am satisfied to know, that with Jesus here below, I can conquer ev,ry foe.

    Reply
  39. Jen
    March 27, 2010

    I can very much relate, thanks for this beautiful post!

    Reply
  40. jen
    March 27, 2010

    Oh, ah – you scratched just the right spot with that post!

    My kid threw up at our co-op today – 15 min. into the 90 min. lesson that I planned and was so excited to execute. I managed to get most of it in the trashcan, as I saw it coming . . . but uh, not ALL the bits made it in. My life is messy too – both in the ways you mentioned, but in the very literal sense. We left with his shirt in a baggie.

    There just isn't anything about this parenting gig that is predictable – except that the craziest things will happen at just the wrong time!

    Reply
  41. Julie
    March 28, 2010

    What a beautiful post. It's true that you can't reach into the gutter to rescue someone without getting a little mud on your hands. I also grieved the loss of my life as the strong capable helpful woman, but I wouldn't trade being in the middle of god's redemptive plan for anything. It's messy, but it's beautiful.

    Reply
  42. Signe
    March 28, 2010

    I just have to say that I LOVE your messy life. It endears you to me, and makes me want to let you look in my fridge without being embarrased. I remember a time when Carol wouldn't let you get things out of her downstairs fridge because she didn't want you to see her laundry room, so she sent me. Now we can hit every room in each other's houses. And thanks to you I now have rice all over my living room floor, but Helen is so much happier. You are more beautiful everyday!!!

    Reply
  43. Ann
    March 28, 2010

    I love this post Lisa. thanks for the wonderful reminder to have lives that are beautiful to God–even if they seem untidy to the lives we dreamed we would have.

    Reply
  44. Emily
    March 28, 2010

    Well said…as my life moves forward- and admittedly it never was "pretty" what is harder and harder for me is how out of my control it all seems – so this is a reminder of who is really in the driver's seat and who can bring me peace amidst the chaos.

    Reply
  45. Laurel
    March 28, 2010

    So well written. Thanks for your honesty.

    Yes, I too dreamed of the adorable children all dressed in matching outfits. Now, we just try to have clean clothes for church, with no holes in the knees.

    Even life with 10 bio. children was easy … compared to life after adopting a few more. I used to do a lot of ministry outside the home. I used to work 35 hours per week, while homeschooling all of my children. I used to sing on the church worship team. I used to host dinner parties almost weekly. Yes … I did all of these things even with 10 children. That was … before adoption came into our lives.

    I LOVE my children from Ghana. They are beautiful. They are amazing. Yet, at the same time, they are challenging beyond belief. Jim and I find ourselves looking at each other, just shaking our heads, day after day. After 2 years home, we still are so far from being able to figure them out … understand their needs …

    Jim took a new job this year. He is a full-time pastor. Which means that I have a new title … "Pastor's Wife". I looked forward to all of the guests that we would invite to dinner … to all of the ministry opportunities that our family would have … to "being there" for all of the ladies of the church. But … life got even messier … our CRISIS hit right as we were making our transition.

    I keep thinking that after our 8 month crisis is really over … THEN I will be able to do all of the "good things" that a pastor's wife should do. But, then I realize that I still have 2 girls in my home that need a LOT of mommy … their social, emotional, and academic ages are so many years younger than their physical ages. Always a challenge.

    Yes … my life is messy, and I don't think it will ever be cleaned up again. But, we know that we are right where God has called us to be.

    Hugs!

    Laurel
    mama of a dozen

    Reply
  46. Kathie
    March 29, 2010

    Dear Lisa,

    I'm just catching up on reading your blog from the past week and want to say thanks for this post. I'm one of those moms who feel like the only one who isn't Superwomen. (I'm sure I've got a cape somewhere under a pile of laundry.) I absolutely love the life God has blessed me with, but I often feel I'm falling short when I compare myself to others. Thank you for letting your readers know that you're human (although I still think of you as super-human for all you do).

    You amaze me, inspire me, and encourage me. God bless you and your sweet family.

    Reply
  47. Jolene
    March 29, 2010

    Thank You for being honest and not fake. I always wonder about those with "Tidy Lives" are they really experiencing the life God truly wants them to have? Or are they just living comfortable because it's easier that way. Comfortable certainly would be easier but God's will is the best and there is a vast difference between those two. Prais God for you story. Jolene

    Reply
  48. j-momma
    March 30, 2010

    ha ha. beautiful home? check minus. we are renovating a house and it's literally a construction zone. well behaved kids? i wish! looking good? i haven't waxed my eyebrows in months and despite my best efforts still live in yoga pants and sweatshirts. the kids do have cute easter outfits. verdict is still out on whether they'll wear them. love this post!

    Reply
  49. Jazz
    March 31, 2010

    This reminds me of how Moses must have felt. Leading a messy life as the leader of rebellious Israelites through the desert. But as a result, he "saw the face of God". I know he would never exchange all the mess for a tidy life because he never would have needed to rely on the exposure of God's glory if everything were always neat and tidy. Really, if the mess is what God has for us, it's the safest, most secure place to be. Thanks for an amazing post.

    Reply
  50. Brandee Shafer
    January 17, 2011

    Just found your blog and this post. As I sit in the dark–afraid to move because I want the baby in my lap to remain asleep, feeling crumbs (or something) in the carpet under my feet, and seeing frighteningly large piles of laundry everywhere (not even sure what's clean or dirty)–your post was the perfect find. Thank you.

    Reply
  51. Bethel
    February 2, 2011

    I know that this is an older post but I just found it and oh so glad I did! I was that very tidy, have it all together mom of four. And then we adopted two out of foster care. Our life is so messy right now. Even after 3+ years of having the boys home. I wish I could say that we've figured this whole thing out. Not so. It's such a journey but my God is so very faithful! Thank you for sharing so honestly. I needed that today!

    Reply
  52. Paula
    February 6, 2011

    Your post really resonates with me. I, too, have an autoimmune disease that I developed about 6 months after I had our 8th biological child. After 2 years of treatment my illness seemed well under control, and we felt called to adopt. We adopted 2 children from Uganda, arriving home in Oct. 2010. I had to spend almost 6 weeks there, which ranged from stressful to harrowing. When I returned home, physically, mentally and spiritually depleted, with a houseful of needy, traumatized children and 2 new little ones (ages 1 and 3) who needed me to help them adjust, it was overwhelming. I knew it would be hard, but I thought since God called us to it, it would be doable. I then had a flare of my illness and 2 other significant health problems arise within 2 months of arriving home. I had to not only accept, but ask for, help from friends, as well as hire additional help.

    Anyway, it leaves me pondering what God wants me to learn from this–to lean on Him more, to take better care of myself, or just that He never promised it would be easy.

    I long to be that together woman, too, instead of the one who is always late, always begging rides for her kids, always missing deadlines, etc. Oh, and cringing when recently people who saw me out for the evening commented on how great I looked, which makes me wonder how I must look to them on a normal day!

    So I hope that my life and myself are beautiful to Him, too.

    Reply
    1. One Thankful Mom
      February 6, 2011

      Paula, thank you for your beautiful note. Seasons of suffering are so hard to understand — it seems we have to trust and then trust some more. And somehow in the midst of it, we need to be thankful for it all — the painful and the joyful. I am praying for your healing right now. Blessings.

      Reply
  53. Fabulous4
    March 20, 2011

    WOW. I just keep reading this… I so get "tidy life suits me" but at the SAME TIME I would truly be very discontent and "restless" with life any other way. Beautiful, real words of hope and vision. P.S. Starting my I-don't-want-to-be-a-lunatic-Mom-Sabbatical-hours this week. I am determined not to ADD these hours, but to lay down other things in order to make them happen. Help me, Jesus! 🙂 Bless you & your beauties.

    Reply
    1. One Thankful Mom
      March 21, 2011

      I am so glad that this meant something to you and I am especially happy to hear that you are making efforts to take care of yourself in the midst of it all. Thank you for blessing me with your comment.

      Reply
  54. Julie
    July 1, 2011

    I love this…I need this….I too like a "tidy" life and feel it suits me and my temperament. It is SO hard for me to let go of that vision and dream and let God make my life messy – for the sake of my family and mostly for Him. Thank you thank you for saying what most of us moms (especially those of us with big families!) feel. I pray that you and I all those reading will have joy in the middle of the mess.

    Reply
  55. learningpatience
    February 18, 2012

    I have no idea how I missed this post when you wrote it, but I think I need to read it every day. It is a great reminder that I have traded my neat life for something better – people, children.

    Reply
  56. Andrea
    March 5, 2013

    As a mom of 3 getting ready to add 2 more from Ghana to the mix, I can't thank you enough for this message this morning, Lisa! I so needed to hear this. Love does heal. It may not be tidy but it will be joyful!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 5, 2013

      Thank you, Andrea. I'm glad you found my blog! I hope you'll enjoy the community here.

      Reply

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