Confession time: I'm a neurotic mess with OCD-tendencies when it comes to cleanliness. I'm a bit of a neatnik. I like my house picked up and put together. I don't do well with crumbs littering my kitchen floor or dust gathering on my coffee table. I like beds made, pajamas folded and backpacks hung orderly by the door. It's virtually impossible for me to go to bed with toys thrown about my living room, and I can't leave the house in the morning without the beds made. Can. Not.

In my pre-mommy days, this wasn't a problem. My husband is the farthest thing from a slob. (Our neatnik ways might be the only thing we have naturally in common.) Our dogs were outside dogs. (Of the cat we shall not speak. She was the interloper in my perfect world.) (And honestly, she would probably have said the same about me.) When I cleaned the house, it stayed clean -- often for weeks. Since Corey and I both kept crazy hours with our jobs, we just weren't home that much to dirty the place.

Then I had children. And lo, the earth shifted and my world came tumbling apart.

Thankfully, it was a slow tumbling. The first few years, the kids were too little to do much damage. I was able to keep to my religion of cleaning the entire house in a day. I would change the linens, dust every room, do the laundry, clean the kitchen, vacuum, Swiffer, mop, take out the garbage and water the plants in one eight-hour period. For a neatnik, it was a flurry of wonderfulness. At the end of the day, I could sigh with deep satisfaction and survey my sparkling kingdom and pronounce it good. (The sanguine side of me like the routine too, because once the house was clean, I had the other six days of the week to play.)

But now? The kids are older. And darn it, they like to play! And create! And "help" Mommy with her work! And build Thomas the Train villages in my living room and set up the full compliment of Little People in the kitchen.

This means my cleaning might not get finished in one eight-hour period anymore. Or, even worse, that my hard work during that eight-hour period will be undone by the evening of said day by the children I birthed from my very loins.

I was thinking about this last night, as I finished a whirlwind of cleaning. I had just finished picking up toys and hauling them back down to the basement playroom -- when I turned around to see my two older kids carrying (different) toys back up from the playroom so they could scatter them willy-nilly around the living room (which had been turned into a tent city thanks to strategically placed blanket and couch cushions).

My inward neatnik sounded like Charlie Brown who's just been denied the kicking of the football. "ARRRRGGGHHHH!"

But since the baby needed feeding, I was helpless to do anything about the chaos right then. And in hindsight, it was a good thing.

As I sat and nursed sweet little Teyla (sweet, sweet Teyla, who doesn't mess up my house when I've just cleaned it), I listened to Connor and Natalie play together in the living room. There was much laughter and joint decision making and -- yes, just a little bossing. They were having fun together and being creative and doing that "kid" thing that we all want our kids to do.

And I realized -- if I want them to play and imagine and grow, I have to let them make a mess. Messes are more than necessary. They are essential. I wish they could stretch their minds and laugh and create while they are living in little bubbles, unable to touch my pristine house. Then I could have the best of both worlds. I could have it all. But that's not reality. Despite what Martha Stewart and HGTV want me to believe, it's just not possible.

And that got me thinking about how God has made Himself known in my life. When I was younger, I had these perfect, polished plans for my future career. I had rosy, cotton-candy ideas for my marriage. I had it all figured out. I was going to be a passionate, sold-out, adventurous Christian -- who just happened to have a high-powered journalism career, a rock-solid marriage that others would aspire to and a beach house that would be both funky and comfortable.

And then God stepped in. And He messed everything up. Boy did He mess everything up.

Initially, I hated the chaos. I wasn't real fond of the searing pain involved in much of it either. I didn't understand why God couldn't just keep up His end of the bargain. "Remember God? The plan? It was supposed to be neat and clean and perfect. And this? Definitely not neat and clean and perfect. Not a blessing, Lord. Not a blessing."

But eventually, through many tears and many honest days spent on my face before God, I started to see that the messes were necessary. They were necessary for my growth. For my faith. For my soul. They were, in fact, huge blessings, if blessings in disguise.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: God knows how to make a good mess, and He knows how to make a mess good.

Which is why I ultimately decided to leave the disaster-that-was-my-living-room last night. Because sometimes the mess is a beautiful thing.

The sanguine side of my temperament would like me to note, for the record, that she rarely has a problem with messes. Nor does she hold such a tight rein on her soul. She welcomes spontaneity, fun, adventure and -- yes -- even chaos. Which is why I'm a slightly conflicted person. Thank you for your time.


  1. Yes, we have to accept the messiness of real life. You said it so beautifully. has good ideas on how to keep the house picked up little bits at a time so that you don't despair, if you are interested.

  2. That was a really great post. I can relate all too well. Thankfully I have learned to let go of some of my OCD tendencies as I have "matured" and I'm much happier. Some days I wish I could get rid of them all together.

  3. Thanks for the post. Oh, the daily conflict between washing the floor or coloring with daughter--between reading her a book or vacuuming the living room. I try to remind myself that I want my daughter to remember spending time with me not playing by herself in an immaculate house. Yet, I still like it to be clean.

  4. I want to know how you are able to have revelations and deep thoughts with a little baby in the house keeping you awake. My brain was torn to shreds by the end of the first month and didn't return until they were a year old. What is your sectet!

  5. Oh, I am so with you on this! I am like schizo-Mom. On one hand I am obsessed with cultivating their creativity, but on the other I want it to be done in ways that don't leave a trail of beads, or glue, or whatever fun stuff their creativity rquires.
    Ultimately I almost always opt for fun, but some days require more patience than others when faced with the mess.

  6. Oh, do I get it. I am a neatnik that wishes she wasn't.

    I also get that whole God turning your world upside down thing. I am always tickled (after the fact) that he made me the way I am, and he knows just what will really push my buttons. And stop me in my tracks. Simply to slow me down to look to Him.

    I am proud of you for leaving the mess. (Did it make you itch all night? I would've been itchy.)

    And how in the world are you cleaning like a madwoman with a baby? And 2 kids? And a husband? Are you Wonder Woman?

    Enjoyed the post. Thanks.

  7. I so fit into your category and was asked once by a friend, "How do you want your child to remember one who wouldn't stop cleaning long enough to see the mess or one that was mom, involved, loveable and human." God wants us to be us, but I believe He finds humor in seeing us squirm a bit when that bed isn't made properly or the dishes are stacking up in the sink. He loves to rock our world and I agree w/ the Queen B, I'm proud of you for leaving the messes, but I would have been itchy and my dreams would have been about messes.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  8. What a great post Kelly. I needed to hear this today. Thank you.

  9. I can relate. I could have written it myself.
    Somedays when the the house has messes scattered about, I'm behind on laundry and nobody can seem to find anything my husband will say "I want the old Lisa back." And he's right, she would have never let any of that happen. But, she didn't have 4 kids either and I've had to learn what's really important!

    You are THE BEST writer!

  10. My dear Mrs. Lovewell,

    In how many ways can you remind me (not that I needed reminding) why I married you?

    I particularly liked "God knows how to make a good mess, and He knows how to make a mess good."

    Hmmm, seems you could insert "husband" for "mess" and have a very relevant truth. Perhaps there's a reason why that statement resonates? Not that I want to mathematically postulate: husband = mess...

    Thanks for revealing, once again, there's a depth to you that accentuates a beauty that's far more than skin deep.

    Yours truly, the very blessed,
    Mr. Lovewell

  11. Okay, first of all, I have to say that your husband's comments are the absolute sweetest thing I have ever read.

    Loved this post, as usual. Unfortunately, the clean gene passed me. Except for being obsessed with my bed being made, I am far too lackadaisical in my pursuit of household neatness.

    And you have waaaay too much energy for a newly postpartum mom. Teyla hasn't even had her shots yet, for pete's sake! You make me tired woman!! :-)

  12. I'll take a smidge of that clean gene if you are interested in sharing... but I love this post and while I can't relate to the neatnik - I find myself doing the same thing with my work - becoming too absorbed in it to have time to enjoy my husband and daughter. Thanks for the perspective.

  13. Oh Kelly, we are indeed soul sisters.

    I've always preferred things to be "just so". BUT GOD has a way of shaking all that can be shaken. Yet in the end, it's "Your will be done, Lord" - often said through tears as I've struggled to let go of my plan and follow His plan.

    And think of it - childbirth is such a MESSY experience. Yet the beauty and new life that comes forth is astonishing. Truly His ways are higher than our ways.

  14. Sometimes I wish I had a little more of you in me (and I think that my husband would agree!). I don't like dirty, but I can handle messy - make the bed before I leave for the day? The better question for me would be when was the last time I made the bed!? :) But when I do a major cleaning, it urks me to no end when that dust bunny (you know the one) floats across the floor (where did that come from?) or a dirty glass gets put on the counter, right above the empty dishwasher. I need some balance.

  15. What a beautifully written post. I hope you don't mind, I linked to it on my blog.

  16. This is the funniest post! I am not a neat freak by all means, but I really can't stand to have toys strung about my house. But like you, I feel that it is needed for them to learn to play and share and create and use their imagination. This days shall pass. Very soon, might I add. And I bet we will all be wishing one day that we could do them all over again. :) I enjoy reading your blog. You are a great writer. And Teyla is BEAUTIFUL!

  17. Oh, my new best friend. That was so awesome.

    I am NOT a neatnik. Sigh. How I wish I were. Because when those of us who struggled to keep clean when we were kidless, reproduce - oh. It gets beyond messy. And then we get new floors and paint and, soon we have a nervous breakdown.

    I know a great book for you to read - And Then I Had Kids by Susan Yates. She has a great chapter on the depression that can come from never being able to complete a task. It helped me tons.

  18. I can totally relate. It's so hard to clean one room, go to the next, and find the previous one a mess again. Sometimes I just let it all go and clean when they go to sleep at night. At least that way the house will stay clean for a little while. hee hee

  19. I love you and your messes (and knowing that your house actually gets messy since I think I could harvest the crumbs on my kitchen floor as an alternate food source). Happy Valentine's day!

  20. Great post Kelly. You know me and "perfectionism" - had to let it go a LONG time ago.
    Had to scroll down to see the baby pix. ADORABLE.
    Happy V-Day!

  21. I have to ditto Mr. Lovewell on my favorite line in this post, "God can make a good mess, and a mess good." That was inspired, my friend.

    Just before I read this I had pulled my sofas out to mop the dust bunnies underneath. I'm totally putting them back now.

    Thanks for the permission. :)

    Much love,


  22. I can relate to so much of this post! Except the neatnik part. I may have OCD tendencies, but they don't extend to my housekeeping ;)

  23. God certainly has a way of throwing our "best laid" plans out of the window, always for good, even though it may not feel like it at the time :)

    Thank you for visiting my blog!

  24. Hi! I just wanted to leave my mark here on your blog. I found you in the comments on Beth Moore's Blog and I'm really enjoying reading your posts!
    I just thought I'd let you know I'd been here and would be back!
    Take care!!

  25. Kelly, this was great. I've been tossing around a post like this in my head for a few weeks, and after reading this, I've resolved to give up. You said it perfectly. (Okay, I'll still write mine, but I'm going to wait a few weeks lest anyone remembers yours and compare. Yikes.) Why are we so afraid of messes when it's what God embraces? I just tell myself all the time, "Get a GRIP, Angie!"

  26. Oh, Kelly. If only I shared your inner neatnik. Unfortunately, I land on the other side of the fence. I enjoy a clean house but do I ever hate cleaning it! God does grow us with our kids, though. He's teaching you to loosen up, and he's teaching me to tighten up (re: organization, cleaning, etc.) so it's all good!

  27. Wow. Thanks so much for you honest thoughts.

    Brenda @ timeandseason (linked from Missy @ It's almost Naptime)

  28. I tagged you for a blogging "thing." Come by here to see...

  29. Fantastic! I unfortunately have the OCD tendencies on things that don't really matter. I wish I had the umph to clean my little apartment in a whirlwind! I love hearing your story of what God has done in you!


  30. Kelly,
    Thanks for your openess. I wish I was a neatnik. I would love for things to just be neat on their own. But I hear you with the kids and the messing up everything you have just done. My two adorable little girls are drawn to the clean like a magnet! I too have been on my face before God asking about my "messes" and truely they are a blessing in disguise. It is amazing how our plan doesn't always equate with His...