I walked the aisles of the supermarket, pushing the cart one handed while reading the list…written in green colored pencil on torn notebook paper…held in the other. Three children, weary of the rainy weather and needing an outlet for their energy, followed behind me like little sheep, barely containing their energy but behaving themselves acceptably. My mind was on dinner, getting the house clean, hurrying home to let the dog out of her kennel.
I ran into her on aisle eight, by the breakfast cereals. An acquaintance, the wife of a childhood friend of hubby’s. I greeted her warmly, smiled. Felt the once-over she gave me and my straggling brood, the disapproving look she didn’t quite conceal, her quick nod before hurrying off.
I thought about how we looked…Eldest, with his pant legs rolled up and one ankle streaked with dried mud due to an earlier romp in the yard with the dog. Middle child, her favorite sweatshirt dirty across the front and a cap from the zoo perched on her head..with her name scrawled across the back in magic marker, since Youngest owns an identical one. Youngest, humming aloud to herself and trailing a few steps behind the rest….adjusting the green twist ties wrapped on her fingers in an imitation of tiger’s claws. There were worn patches on Middle Child’s pants, both knees. Youngest had dressed herself, and had on a striped shirt, a fancy black velour skirt, and a pair of flowered tights. We were a motley crew as we paid for our groceries and headed out the door. A noisy, messy lot.
She was perfectly coiffed, wearing designer clothes, looking beautiful and put together. Alone, her one child probably at one of the many classes he attends after school. We seemed, as I loaded my groceries into the back of my old (but reliable) car, to be worlds apart.
But as I drove toward home I didn’t feel shame in that. Maybe a few years ago, I would have felt inferior or embarrassed or angry at the slight. But as I glanced back in the rear view mirror, I realized what we had…a car full of love! Messy, noisy, inconvenient love. It isn’t always pretty, but it is always beautiful. My heart hurt for her, because her clean, new car lacked the happy chatter of excited children. She was going home to an empty, quiet house…where even when family gathered few words would be spoken and few hugs exchanged.
My supermarket acquaintance’s life looks very pretty on the outside. Over the years, though, the parts of her life that don’t show have brought such heartache that I hurt to think about it. I wish I could share with her that what matters, what makes you happy and what gives your life true beauty is not in all the things you surround yourself with. It’s in what your heart surrounds that brings you joy. My heart is full…full of the joy of my faith in Christ, full of the blessing of my marriage, full of the smiles and laughter of my children. There is something very beautiful about muddy feet and torn jeans and the joyful sounds of happy children. It can’t be bought or contrived. I’m not saying that order isn’t a good thing, or that cultivating chaos is a good idea. It’s just that living life to the fullest sometimes means muddy feet, mismatched clothes, and the singing of off-key tunes.
I pray that I remember to see the beauty in that, even when the world frowns on it. And I pray for more messy, noisy love in the lives of those who miss it.