“I Never Met a Mess I Didn’t Like,” Ensign, Oct. 1990, 51
As I opened the door, the phone was ringing. I dropped my purse and totebag heavily on the floor and tried to find a syrup-free spot on the dining-room table where I could lay my notebook down.
“This is Lori,” said the voice on the phone. “I hate to call at the last minute like this, but Joy and I are going visiting teaching tonight. I’ve tried to call you several times to make an appointment, but never found you in.”
“Yes,” I responded, “I’m attending a week-long writing workshop. It’s been wonderful, but I’ve been gone a lot.”
“Would it be okay if we came by between six-thirty and seven o’clock?”
I glanced at the clock—almost six o’clock. From where I stood, I could see the kitchen, dining room, and living room. What a mess! My first inclination was to bargain. Could they come later? Getting this place “company ready” would surely take an hour—probably a week to come up to Mama’s standards. I wondered if we could meet at Joy’s house—or a fast-food restaurant. Suddenly I longed for a front porch complete with swing and rocking chair. I could move all the clutter out of sight and meet them at the door and say demurely, “It’s such a lovely evening! Why don’t we visit out here?”
But my writing workshop had underscored for me the value of being genuine. If Jesus knocked at my door, would I ask him to come back at eight o’clock?
I recalled a day five years before when my friend, Carole, knocked at my front door. I had taken care of her little girl while she had taken her baby to the doctor. Exhausted from a long night of being up with her baby, Carole was tense, her face taut. I invited her into the living room that the children and I (mostly I) had quickly tidied up.
“I can’t stay,” she protested. “My house is a wreck! I’ve got to get home and clean it.” She called her daughter and prepared to leave. “Sister Naylor,” she sighed, “your house always looks so nice.”
The compliment pleased me, yet I felt vague pangs of guilt. “Carole, there is something you must see.”
I led her down the hall and opened the bedroom doors I had so carefully closed a few minutes before. In one room we surveyed the remnants of a hard day’s play—cars, trucks, doll clothes, and a pile of wooden blocks. In the next, T-shirts, blue jeans, and little boys’ apparel lay artistically displayed on beds, dressers, and, of course, the floor. “This,” I announced, “is the way we really live.”
Carole’s eyes opened wide, a grin animated her face, and tension flowed out of her body. “Thank you,” she said. “I feel so much better.”
Why do we judge others by their front parlor, but ourselves by the back bedroom? What is our house for, anyway? We don’t grow vegetables, or children, in little sterilized containers. We harvest tomatoes, green beans, and corn in abundance from the mud. Our children, too—who are growing in wisdom and stature—spend their share of time in the mud.
My mind returned to the present as Lori continued, “If you’d prefer us to come a little later …” I pictured Lori—a young mother struggling to keep house with a new baby, a kindergartner, and a full-time job. Her husband had just been called as elders quorum president. She must feel overwhelmed! Before her baby came, I had visited her. She kept apologizing for the mess (What mess? I didn’t see any mess) and for the condition of her furniture.
I looked at our overstuffed chair; it was gradually becoming understuffed. (The schoolteacher in me thought, “What is six plus seven? In this case, six children plus seven years equals thirteen holes in the upholstery.”) The Lord knows how we live. Why not Lori?
“I’ll be honest with you, Lori. I have crumbled potato chips and popcorn on my dining-room floor. And laundry is piled high on the couch. But that’s okay—we can fold it while we talk. Come on over. It will be fun to visit.”
My sixteen-year-old son, Jamie, who had blissfully wallowed in the mire all day, overheard my end of the conversation. To my amazement, he quietly arranged the furniture in the living room, then toted the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and went to work on the dinning-room floor. He looked up. We exchanged a knowing (and loving) smile. After family prayer tonight, there would be time for hugs and words of thanks. But right then, I was up to my wrists washing dishes at the kitchen sink, and the vacuum cleaner made conversation impossible.
We may not be doing everything the “perfect Mormon family” should, if such a family really exists. But as I looked across the room at Jamie, a scripture came into my mind: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16.)
At times like this, I know we have been doing something right.