Harrison Ford ingeniously eludes the law in The Fugitive. Disguising himself believably, he subjects himself to discomfort and stays ahead of the pursuing detectives. There is a nerve-racking point in the movie, however, when the team of detectives gets excited, knowing they have located his dwelling place. What tips them off? Orange peels and paper scraps: signs of life. Archaeologists experience similar excitement when they come across signs of ancient life. They painstakingly preserve even the smallest porcelain fragment so museum onlookers can admire the story it tells.
At home, however, coming across smelly food scraps and scattered dishes just doesn’t have the same appeal to a mother as it does to a detective or an archaeologist. Just yesterday, arriving home, a whiff of burnt toast told me that my daughter had fixed herself a snack while I was gone. The crumbs and drippy butter left on the counter gave further evidence of her doings. Additional “signs of life” surrounded me with each advance further into my home. I eyed shoes piled next to the bare storage rack. A damp towel lay heaped on the bedroom floor.
Suffocation was setting in. But my tired mind awoke as I recalled a conversation with a friend. Her words gave me the fresh air needed to forge ahead through those hazardous hallways. After complaining to her about how much running around and cleaning up I had to do, she had replied with this reality check: “Life would be pretty boring without my kids.” My negativity stopped in its tracks, as I remembered her recent loss of a family member, which I am sure contributed to her powerful perspective.
I suddenly saw those messy signs of life through new eyes. The crumbs on the counter came from energy-giving bread that filled the belly of my self-sufficient daughter. A towel on the floor meant my adolescent son’s regard for personal hygiene was growing! Shoes were tossed about because of our continuous involvements in active, meaningful pursuits.
A short time later I attended the memorial service for a young friend. The experience helped me to see that I am blessed through the mess. Displayed to his memory were various items indicating how he enjoyed spending his time: a Rubik’s cube, comic book volumes, an unfinished chain mail craft project. They all sat on display, never again to be enjoyed by this precious boy. Images still flash through my mind of his family having to gather these relics from his silent, empty bedroom.
My new understanding prompts me to look beyond the clutter on my own son’s dresser and bedroom floor. Like a detective, I start to wonder what structures he envisions will come of those Lego piles. And I marvel that he can solve all nine of those dusty Rubik’s cubes.
Make no mistake; I do consider it my job to train all members of my household to pick up after themselves. However, as any parent on the planet can attest, it is a challenge not quickly completed. This new way of thinking has been one way I cope with my current reality.
Once I admired the museum-like homes of retired women who decorate with exquisite vases and see the sunrise through fingerprint-free bay windows. But museums are for halted history. My life is in vibrant, living color. The signs are everywhere, splashed across the canvas of the home where we L-I-V-E.
QUESTION: What “signs of life” are around your home right now? What positive and powerful things to they represent?
CHALLENGE: When you see messes around your home this week, mindfully consider what those “signs of life” might really represent. How are you “blessed through the mess?” Say these thoughts out loud when you feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
Edited by Dawn Wessman and Sarah Monson.
Image from author with graphics by Anna Jenkins.