The Tidy Ones: oops

I was one of the tidy ones. Oh yes. Very tidy. And even today, if you drop by our house, you will see that it’s tidy. A bit dusty. A dirty dish in the sink in the middle of the day, perhaps, (the dishwasher is broken), but still very tidy. It’s important to be tidy. Isn’t it?

If you had known me twenty years ago, well, first of all, you would not have recognized me. You wouldn’t have had time. I didn’t stop long enough. Working sixty or more hours a week-plus, at least once a month on a plane going from San Diego to St. Petersburg, from Minot to Memphis, to teach, lead workshops and consult, conduct investigations into professional misconduct, and preach. I went from Fort Bragg to Ogallalla, from San Francisco to Palm Beach. The wee-hours car service knew the way by heart to our suburban Chicago home. And when I was in town, I was commuting over an hour each way to a very demanding and rewarding job that I was requested to invent initially out of whole cloth. But, still, somehow, it was a very tidy life.

Our house was tidy, even the girls’ rooms: every night at bedtime I tidied them, playing Polly Pocket or Legos along the way. The closets and drawers were tidy, the storage room was even tidy, and so was the garage. My car was tidy, my Day-Timer was neat and tidy, and, from college onward, everyone said my classnotes were the tidiest they had ever seen. Tidiness was apparently very important to me. I looked neat and tidy, freshly showered, hair styled, never left the house without make-up. Our yard was tidy and even the playroom in the basement. Tidy.

Did you know that tidy isn’t normal? That’s what the tape of Terry Hershey’s in our CD player tells me. Tidy isn’t normal.

Oh, I need to mention that I was also very tidy in my talk. I was always “fine.” I was the listener, the one everyone else came to to tell their untidy stories. And I always accepted them, assured them it was okay to not be tidy (so I guess I agree with Terry), and that they were enough as they were. I actually told other people, get this, “tidy isn’t normal.” But for me, it had to be tidy. Had there been such a thing, I would’ve been good money to bet on the “Tidy Bowl.”

Then. Then. It happened. I got injured and incapable of being all-so-tidy anymore. I became the one who needed to talk. And it scared me to death. What if people didn’t like the not-so-tidy me?

I found out the hard way. Some people don’t. Some folks can’t make room in their lives for those of us who listen to radicals like Jesus, and Pastor Dave, and Vikki, and tapes like Terry Hershey’s that say, “tidiness isn’t normal.” If you’re not fine, you’re not welcome. It was painful. I listened to that CD, called “Work It In,” that said, “tidiness isn’t normal” and thought, but where on earth can I ever be with my untidiness? Where can people who aren’t tidy go?

But then I started showing up here. Slowly. Scared. Not tidy. Not fine. And I felt welcome. I was accepted for the untidiness I inserted into our community. I didn’t have to have it all together. I could sniffle in worship. Get up and walk out if it became overwhelming. And, frankly, I found out that I wasn’t the only one. I don’t know many of you very well, heck, I don’t know many of you at all. But you seem to be okay with my untidiness. I know Jesus is fine with me the way I am. I know I am forgiven and free. But what about Jesus’ people?

Well, good news! This is a community where we are free to be who we are. And I think this makes Jesus very happy. It has emboldened me to most certainly continue to accept others – here and elsewhere – as they are. To extend the gifts received from you to others. It still is a rough go “out there,” frequently. I’ve been burned too many times to be too trusting. People still expect us to be tidy, easy for them to be with, smooth, not needy, not edgy. But that makes me all the more grateful that God’s grace has created God’s Grace, a place where tidiness just doesn’t matter. And we are all like sweet perfume. Pretty darn cool. Thank you.

“Love is patient and kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on getting its own way, and is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice when others screw up but does rejoice in the truth. And best of all, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and even endures all things.” Lord, Jesus, Loving God of all creation, thank you for accepting us as we are and giving us the grace to accept each other, even as you have accepted us. Untidy as we are. Amen” (I Corinthians 13)

Jan Erickson Pearson

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