This Beautiful Mess

pirate couch large-2Finally, nap time. I had just tackled the morning mess, including breakfast and lunch dishes and a few soaking pans from the night before. Being 30-weeks pregnant with baby number three, I was desperate for some sleep.

Mercifully, our four-year-old went down without complaint. Our six-year-old was just as eager for some playtime by himself. I left him with LEGO, books, crayons and the run of the living room. All was well.

I awoke an hour later to loud whispers in my ear. “Mommy! Come see what I made.”

I rolled out of bed as he led me by the hand to see his masterpiece. At the foot of the stairs, the living room was shrouded in couch cushions, coordinating throw pillows, wool wraps and freshly washed sheets.

“Don’t you love it? It’s my fort!”

“Honey, this is great,” I mustered. “But remember, we’re having company for dinner and Mommy just cleaned, so you have to put everything away.”

He looked at me with his puppy-dog eyes. “It’s like you care more about the couch than me,” he said.

“No, of course I don’t,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t understand my dilemma. I was proud of his creativity. But did it have to come at the expense of my peaceful, beautiful, orderly home?

What matters most?

How could we have known, back when I was pregnant with our little fort builder, that the most important test of a good couch was not its construction, comfort or color scheme?

pirate couch large-4What mattered most, once the kids arrived, was how easily all the cushions and pillows could be removed and made to resemble a pirate ship, volcano or secret hideout. At least we’d had the foresight to spring for the Scotchgard treatment.

We were naïve. Lost in a steady stream of Pottery Barn catalogues, we shopped with dreams of showroom furniture artfully arranged in our first home. The only problem with that fantasy was people. If you notice, there aren’t any in most furniture catalogues. Apart from the occasional dog and monogrammed towel suggesting a human presence, those catalogues are lifeless. But aren’t people what matter most?

The purpose of a home

In Home Comforts, a book about how a home works, not how it looks, author Cheryl Mendelson writes, “When you keep house, you use your head, your heart and your hands together to create a home – the place where you live the most important parts of your private life.” And when kids are little, the most important parts have a lot to do with making messes.

Stephen Curtis Chapman captures this idea in his song Signs of Life:

I’ve got crayons rolling around in the floorboard of my car,
Bicycles all over my driveway, bats and balls all over my yard,
And there’s a plastic man from outer space sitting in my chair.
The signs of life are everywhere.

Eternal treasures

At times when Steve complains about the landscaping rocks the kids have thrown in the grass, I remind him, “Honey, we’re raising kids, not grass.” Recently he turned it back on me, saying, “We’re raising kids, not occasional tables and leather ottomans.”

pirate couch large-3Those things aren’t eternal. No matter how perfect something is when you get it – or what you do to keep it that way – it won’t last. As disappointing as that may be, it’s freeing to just accept it. One motivational writer says she knows her stuff will break sooner or later, so she just looks at it and thinks, It’s already broken. That saves her the stress of trying to keep it perfect.

For me, it makes sense to look at our stuff and think, It’s already sticky. This attitude of not frantically trying to keep our stuff pristine is consistent with Matthew 6:19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

My goals for our home no longer include maintaining the look of a decorating magazine. Our home wasn’t built to be a showroom. The life encompassed within its walls – loving a spouse and children, having babies, teaching children to know and love God – is far too important to be diminished by such low aims … even if it means having to work my way through a cushion fort to finish my nap.

[Note: I wrote this article back in 2006. We’ve since passed our pirate-ship-capable couch on to some friends and replaced it with a cushions-attached sectional. But these principles of what matters most seem even more true to me now–with four kids, and evidence that the mess-heavy years really do fly by–than when I wrote it. How I needed this reminder today.]