Monday, July 29, 2013

Feast of St. Martha: the art of celebrating imperfect

Vincenzo Campi, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha

This morning, I awoke to the pile of suitcases and unwashed things left in the living room upon our return last evening from a weekend away with family. The trip was wonderful- fun, relaxing, and joyful. We shared laughs by the river and laughs over barbeque and laughs over ice cream and laughs beside the pool. My children jumped on sofa cushions and bounced on sofa beds and crowded all at once into a hotel bathtub in the way only the youngest of siblings can...all splashing and trying to "swim" past each other with nowhere to go, then slipping and sliding in all the water that ended up on the floor.

When we got home last night, we were tired. After the kids were in bed, we decided to go to bed ourselves and leave the rest for later.

Later arrived this morning.
I went for my run as the sun was rising, and then I tackled life.

I am, after all, the Unpacker. I am the Washer of Things Dirty, the Cleaner-Upper of Messes Made. I am the Restorer of Order. And today, of all days, on the Feast of Saint Martha (who is the Patroness of Domesticity Done Right), it seemed like I should be about bringing my home and my family's life within it back to Clean, Shiny, Beautiful & Lovely.

The Feast of Saint Martha belongs to all of us domestic warriors, the ones struggling with perfectionism and a to-do list that never ends. It also belongs to my daughter, Nora, who shares a middle name with my grandmother, Martha. There being no Saint Nora, we gave her Saint Martha. I've often wondered if I'm setting her up, if she will struggle as I do with the specter of Perfect and always wonder if she is doing enough.

I hope not.

My grandmother Martha is no Saint Martha in the domestic department, but she always gets by. The year the table collapsed at Thanksgiving dinner, spilling the just-cut turkey and the collards and the potatoes and the fruits of her up-since-5-this-morning cooking, she sat in her chair at the foot of of that table and laughed and laughed and laughed until the rest of us did, too, because there was nothing else to do.

That feast, with her laughter ringing off the ceiling, was unforgettable...and so was the mess. I was old enough that year to remember both.

Did Jesus talk about messes? "This mess you shall always have with you," or something like that? I'm guessing he had more important things to worry about, but I'm grateful that Saint Martha seemed to get it. He showed up at her house, and while her younger sister sat raptly at his feet and hung upon his every word, Martha was busy getting things done.

After all, somebody has to get the groceries, make the meal, and clean up after the feast. No matter how much you love the Guest, there are always dishes to wash after he leaves. I always want to pat Saint Martha on the shoulder after Jesus rebukes her and tell her, "It's okay, sister, I get it- I'll help you sweep up."

It's hard not to look around here and see the messy, the less-than-perfect, the I-wish-I-had-time-to. The flowerbeds are weedy and the kitchen floor is sticky. The shelves are dusty and the floor is scattered with a perpetual sprinkling of little dinosaurs and bristle blocks and tiny shoes and open books. There are always towels on the bathroom floor, and the smallish boy who loves the foaming hand soap often sprays the mirror with it in his enthusiasm. The oven is still broken.

This mess, though- it's full of hidden beauty. The sand on the laundry room floor was trucked in from our lakeside picnic this afternoon with friends. The syrupy smears on the high chair trays were left by little girls happily eating their feast day breakfast-for-dinner. The handprints and nose smudges that cover the front windows are created daily by a crowd of small people standing clustered together on tiptoe, straining to be the first to spot their Daddy as he comes up the driveway after work.

As he comes home. To this house. No, it's not perfectly clean and tidy. No, it isn't the picture of modern decorating bliss. But the people inside it are happy. The children are thriving and growing and falling all over themselves to tell him all about what they did today. And tonight, we celebrated Saint Martha, the patroness of domestic life and of my little daughter with smiley face pancakes and a lemon meringue pie that someone else baked.

Life is perfectly, imperfectly good. Celebrating needs to be about just that. And the best way for Nora to grow up knowing that she can enjoy her life even if things aren't exactly perfect is for me to stop frowning at the mess and start the party in all its imperfect glory.

Saint Martha, help me to remember that we can dance on floors that haven't been vacuumed;
We can snuggle together for stories on the sofa with the stain on the corner of the cushion;
We can wrap up after bath time in towels that haven't been folded;
And while we may never be perfect, we are always perfectly Loved.
Bless our best efforts, and may we trust God's grace to cover the rest.
In Jesus' name, Amen.