A couple things to know:
1. Chicken chili does not look dissimilar from vomit when it’s all over your car
2. If you ride in my car anytime soon (or perhaps ever) it is going to smell like chicken chili
I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself, so let me back up. The last couple of weeks have been busy and full, mostly good things, some hard, but it has felt like it was a little much…in that “I’ve probably squeezed in more things than was ideal and/or I’ve overcommitted myself just a little” sort of way. This is a place I’ve been before. It doesn’t usually end well.
I found myself there again Thursday evening. I was chopping and sautéing onions, dicing chicken, and opening cans of beans in my kitchen at 11:45 p.m. Why was I doing this in the midnight hour? Because I’d chosen to spend the earlier part of the night with friends and it had been wonderful. Because I knew I could summon my inner night owl and muddle through one more day of work tired. Because I had an hour lunch break on Friday where I could run home, finish prepping, and dump it all in the crock-pot so dinner would be ready in time to feed my church small group that night.
It was a beautiful plan. I left my house on time Friday evening. The crock-pot full of delicious chicken chili was wedged securely between the passenger seat and the underside of the glove compartment. The bag of assorted toppings and my Bible and notes, were on the seat next to me. I’d also signed up to lead our discussion that night. We’re sharing responsibility for meal prep and leading this fall. Somehow it seemed like a good idea to take my turn for both in the same night.
I was less than a mile from my house when the beautiful plan fell apart. A woman almost side swiped me as she attempted to change lanes. I had to lay on the horn and swerve onto the grass to not get hit. After the near collision, I turned to look at the woman in the other car. She was laughing…not in the “ooh, my bad” kind of way, but in the “what’s your problem? you’re totally overreacting” kind of way. Then I turned to look at the chili. The crock-pot was no longer full.
I was obviously relieved to have not been in an accident. But tears and all kinds of other emotions were still spilling out of me as I merged onto I-64. I was mad at the woman for laughing at me. I was mad that I was going to have a big mess to clean up. I was worried there wouldn’t be enough chili left to feed everyone.
Then began the spiraling. Why do I try to do everything? Why am I not capable of being single and successfully transporting a crock-pot of food in my car without making a mess? (The last spill incident had involved baked beans.) Yup, I’m a 100% failure at safe crock-pot transit. I’m probably a failure at a lot of other things. The discussion will probably go badly. Why can’t I stop crying? I’m being ridiculous – it’s spilled soup, not the end of the world. I’ll probably be single and transporting crock-pots alone (and dumping them) for the rest of my life. I’m mad that I have to serve a crap version of what was once a nice diner. I want to go home and hide, not lead a discussion on Phillippians 2. I’m going to arrive crying and messy.
That last part was true. I pulled into the driveway crying and with mascara all over my face. There was going to be no hiding. I’d sent a text from a stoplight that I was running late and half of dinner was no longer, but I was still overwhelmed to be greeted with so much kindness from my people. There were waving babies, offers of help, comments about how good dinner still smelled, and promises of leftovers in the fridge if we ended up short on chili.
As someone carried the dripping crock-pot into the house, others came out with paper towels and a bucket of water. I looked at the floor mat. It looked like someone had gotten sick in the car. I carefully lifted that out and scraped it into the garbage. There was chili everywhere. It had seeped under the mat, under the carpet, under the plastic panels, to places in the car you can’t even get to.
The mess was bigger than I thought. But so was the love. I was not alone in the mess. These things are always true, but felt especially and tangibly so last night.
After some time of teary scrubbing and feeling like I was getting nowhere, one of the guys came back out to the driveway and said, “Why don’t you go in and let me work on it awhile for you?”
That is the gospel right there.
Jesus sees me in my mess, in my efforts to clean myself up and manage things on my own, and he reminds me over and over again that the work is His, not mine. There is grace. There is a rescuer. And His love is always bigger than the mess.