It was a warm New Year’s Day at a monastery in Cullman, Alabama years ago that I first accepted that I am a mess. I distinctly remember writing in my journal, a new practice at the time, “What if I will always be a mess?”. I was young and hopeful, but also naive about myself and about the world; I was still holding onto the harmful believe that I could be less of my messy self and that, in doing so, I could earn other’s or God’s love more fully and completely. I was on a silent/meditative retreat and it was my first brush with the ways in which God was calling me to be who I am today.
There in that moment, watching that lone duck smoothly sail across the small pond with the sun warming my face as one year glided into the next, I realized that it is not a question of if I will always be a mess, but how I will navigate this life as a mess. It was a beautiful moment of holy laughter. The key to living life while being a mess is to accept that life is messy and so am I; I cannot fix myself into a more lovable or acceptable version of myself, and if I can accept that I am a mess, I have more energy to spend on returning the love that I so desperately seek in others.
I think back to that moment often. Generally, I am thinking back to it when I’m in the middle of spending every ounce of energy that I have on making sure that no one is aware that I am a mess.
Sure, it was a picturesque moment in which I accepted that I was a mess, but it’s been something I’ve continually struggled to actually live into. I don’t like people to know when life gets messy. It is hard for me to be okay with folks knowing that I am fragile and messy. I edit and re-edit everything I put out; I think of how people in a variety of circumstances will read or see or hear me. I’d like to say I do this to make sure that I am aware of the needs of others, but mostly, it’s because I don’t want people to see the middle parts. For me, you see the beginning or you see the finished product, and I’m not keen on sharing the middle, because the middle is the where the mess is.
I have enough Brene Brown books on my shelf for anyone to be able to tell that I struggle with vulnerability, shame, and guilt. Letting people see the mess is agonizing; I have a visceral reaction to the idea of letting people see me in a vulnerable state, of letting people see the mess of Becca. If you forced my hand, I’d choose loneliness and isolation over letting people see the mess of the middle. I’m not proud of this, but I know it to be true.
I know it to be true because I’m in the mess of the middle right now. Not Cancer is huge and wonderful. It’s also messy.
In coming out of the shock of the past three weeks, I’m waking up to many things that I couldn’t experience while in the moment. Navigating life the past three weeks has been about how to get to the next doctor’s visit or diagnosis or scheduled scan or biopsy or surgery; it has been about doing my best to keep the amazing people that I am lucky enough to love looped in, to whatever level was appropriate at the time, to what was happening. It was relaying information across emails, text messages, and groups of family and friends. The past three weeks, for me, haven’t been messy, they’ve been sterile. As I’m coming out shock, I am waking up to the reality that the past three weeks haven’t been sterile at all; no, in fact, they have been messy as hell.
If I hadn’t been in such shock, I know, for a fact, most of you would not know that I was sick; I would have covered it. Not because I’m malicious or because I don’t want you to be a part of my life, but I would have hidden it because it all is a mess, and I don’t want you to see the mess of the middle.
Thanks be to God I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening or how much of a mess I have been. My blindness to the mess paved the way for me to say, again and again, “pray for me, please”, a vulnerable request to make; being temporarily blind to the mess allowed me to be open to be seen, hot mess and all. Because Not Cancer came on so suddenly, I didn’t have the chance to be proud or to put on a facade of “everything is fine”; if you saw me or talked to me in the past three weeks, it was just full on mess.
Not Cancer was the concluding sentence of the most recent paragraph of my story; it wrapped up a scary period of shock and unknowns. It was also news that was really hard to share. Joyous and wonderful and lovely, but really hard to share, too; because to share the news of Not Cancer was to choose to continue to invite you into the mess of the middle. My hand isn’t being forced by shock of sudden illness or the immediacy of for-real cancer; I’m recovering from a pretty major surgery, but everything will eventually appear fine again, and to share Not Cancer is to share the continued and sustained mess of the middle.
So, welcome to the mess of the middle; it’s hard for me to welcome you here, but I’m glad we’re in it together. The more you are aware of the mess, the more you can pray for the mess; I take every chance I can to offer my gratitude for you and for all the prayers that you pray while we’re in the messy parts of life. Know that I’m praying for your mess as well, whether or not I am keyed into the ways in which your life is messy, I know we all tread this life as a bit of a mess and that God’s love and grace can reach us, even in the middle.