Gray Toy Baskets

For four years, we hosted weekly dinner parties with friends in our tiny newlywed apartment. What we lacked in space, we made up for in homemade dinners and a large board game collection. Two or three couples would squeeze around our hand-me-down table eating lasagna and playing Settlers of Catan. Some of our sweetest friendships were forged while trading brick for wood—building deep connections while we built roads and settlements.

Most of our friends were like us: newly married, still in school, no kids, and no money. But one of our dearest couple friends were a few years ahead of us and already had two children. They weren’t able to come over as often as we invited, but one weekend when they were free, we set dinner an hour earlier to accommodate their little ones’ bedtimes.

I thought I was ready for a toddler and infant to visit our apartment. I set out an extra plate for the toddler (a smaller version of our ceramic dishes) and put a blanket on the ground with a single car for the baby to play. I laugh now, thinking about how unprepared I was for the frenzy that ensued—for the spit up, tantrums, and sticky fingers touching everything. For a toddler who curiously and constantly asked questions and opened every door. For a baby who wanted to join the party at the table instead of being relegated to playing on the floor. Our friends took it all in stride, gently and firmly helping their children adjust in an environment that was obviously not kid friendly.

At the end of the evening, the mother helped the toddler clean up after himself. She laughed as she picked up a few DVDs accidently knocked off a shelf and onto the floor, “I hoped those weren’t alphabetized.”

They were. I prayed my smile camouflaged my inward cringing.

After watching my friend that evening, I wasn’t sure how I could ever be a mom like her, able to gracefully handle the messiness of motherhood.

I’ve always been a bit of a neat freak. In high school, my closet was color coded. In college, I kept well-organized bins under the bed in my tiny dorm. Everything had its place in our small newlywed apartment. Even when we moved into our first home with an infant daughter, I prided myself on the trendy gray toy baskets in our living room that would keep all signs of life hidden away under the coffee table.

Now those baskets are dumped over on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.

With each additional day of motherhood, I’ve become more content with mess around me. Crumbs perpetually under the kitchen table. Ever-present half-full laundry hampers. Dark spots on the sofa from tipped over water bottles. Spit up on the shoulder of my shirt. Little clues reminding me not everything in life can be controlled in neatly labeled containers.

I’ve come a long way since color coordinating my t-shirts as a teenager. A difficult and untidy roommate in college taught me to accept others wherever they are. My new and even untidier husband showed me how to accept God’s grace for my own imperfections. And each day, my two little children are reminding me God works through each of our flaws to bring about our good and his glory. I don’t need to clean up myself, my children, or my home to come to him. I can bring all my messy motherhood to his feet.

When Jesus was honored at dinner parties, his guests were far from perfect. A disgraced woman. A tax collector. A Gentile. Sinners, doubters, and outcasts. Instead of expecting them to fix themselves before they could fellowship with him, he invited them to bring their broken lives to his feet. He was never afraid of their messiness. The religious elite scoffed at the sinful woman worshipping at the feet of Jesus and deemed her unworthy to enter the presence of a rabbi. But Jesus saw her, touched her, forgave her, and even honored her above his hosts (Luke 7:36-50). The Pharisees’ obsession with outward cleanliness kept them from true relationship with Jesus, but the humble worship of the sinful woman opened her up to his forgiveness, peace, and restoration.

Jesus welcomes each of us with the same lovingkindness, only asking that we bring our whole selves to him—every dirty dish, dusty corner, and smudged window. When we put our hope in his saving grace and mercy instead of our own goodness and strength, he’s ready to say to us like he did to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).

Tonight, we’ll host another family for dinner. I’ll still make our favorite lasagna, and my husband will pull out a board game to play (which will probably get cut short due to tired toddlers). We’ll attempt adult conversation at the table while our toddlers and infants leave a trail of toys and drool across the living room rug. We’ll empathetically laugh when one toddler refuses dinner and the other refuses to share. When our babies’ cries finally reach a certain octave, we’ll say goodbye to our friends at the door then goodnight to our children in bed. My husband will start washing the dishes in the kitchen; I’ll start picking up the toys in the living room.

Our home may be bigger than our newlywed apartment, but it’s also not nearly as clean. A few years ago, I would have cringed at such a chaotic dinner party. Tonight, I’ll genuinely smile while putting toys back into their respective gray bins, thankful that this messiness means we’re building even deeper relationships.

Jesus welcomes each of us with the same lovingkindness, only asking that we bring our whole selves to him—every dirty dish, dusty corner, and smudged window.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Make A Mess”.

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