Every surface houses strewn art supplies, vegetables piled in containers, books, gardening tools, toys, discarded shoes rarely in pairs. A lone week home from camp and we destroy our space in short-order. Today I mostly feel solidarity with Caden's purple angry minion. His crazy eyes feel familiar.
I swing on our cheerful yellow bench, door closed to the bickering inside that I cannot stem no matter how many consequences I dole out, nor how often I reward and praise when they choose peace. Life around here brims a complicated balance, a delicate tightrope walk between the hard and messy that spills through our doors and the everyday messes behind them.
Adam slices vegetables and fruit, adding sugar and vinegar. He preserves the bounty from the garden in jars with lids screwed on tight, marked with dates in red sharpie. Digging and watering and pruning and picking, proof that perhaps seeds planted will produce something worth saving one day.He cuts tomatoes up into guacamole and salsa to share with the neighbors. We lose a chicken only to find her lifeless one morning inside the coop. Death and life and gunshots and laughter ring out in waves that crest and fall on our hearts, while we pray not to find ourselves hardened by the relentless pounding.
The kids paint with their fingers and with brushes, Caden scribbles small on every single page of the coloring book, causing Jayci to wail that he wasted the whole thing. We gather books for the library, and Jayci picks out her "very favorite ones" to share with her friends. I smile and try to encourage her generosity, even when I feel the compulsion to tuck the best books back on our own shelves, far from prying hands and fingers-stained-with-cheetos.
Lest you think the mess hasn't spilled into every corner, rest-assured that the piles extend even to the tops of cabinets next to the cactus. I prickle and bristle; Adam and I poke at each other with gentle and pointed accusations over who-cleaned-up-last, who forgot to switch the laundry, and which team deserved to win that last World Cup game.
The broken spills in, and I cant help but wonder if we were more "effective" when we could get kids out of their environment and into the safety of the suburbs, even if only for an hour. When we were comfortable and they were not. I turn over again and again the thoughts that perhaps we fumble them farther from God than closer. Perhaps we fail them with words that make God seem middle class and white. Or we fail them by introducing them to other boys who arguably may not have the best influence, or getting them jobs that maybe only serve to provide more spending money for fancy shoes and drugs.
One boy yells you're too hard on me, while another whispers about those who think we aren't hard enough. We spin and flail, certain the pendulum of tough love and grace has somehow found itself tangled in the mess of vegetables and crayons strewn across the counter. We look for peace, and cling to hope, to ordinary reminders of a Savior who must be present. Even, or perhaps especially, in our mess.