Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When You Love Someone Who Makes Life Messy

I walk into the laundry room and can tell immediately that he's been in there. The towels are more rolled than folded, the dryer is stuffed beyond capacity, and the washer is filled with clothes that are covered in suds from too much detergent.

My brother has definitely been here.

My first instinct is to roll my eyes, put my hands on my hips and feel irritated over the extra work he has created by 'helping' me. After a couple of minutes, though, I feel bad about my flash of anger. This guy is 34 and he can't even help with laundry without making a mess of it. I clean up the clothes in the washer and dryer then go give Erik my thanks that he got the towels folded for me.

I hate folding towels, anyway.

When you love someone who makes life messy you just learn to laugh. (And sometimes cry in private.)

Six years ago Erik came to stay with us for a while. I had to run some errands and he decided he'd like to stay home alone, which is just fine. He really loves to clean when he's home alone, and I totally get that. I came home and  he said, "Happy surprise!" as he revealed my freshly cleaned home school room.

Hoo boy.

Here are some things you need to know:

1. My idea of organized looks nothing like Erik's idea of organized. His version means that all stuff is hidden. Not seen. Gone.

2. Erik is thorough. Like, OCD thorough.

3. He never means to mess up.

I was super gracious and profusely thanked him for his help. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and did the silent scream.

It literally took me two months to find one of the kids' math books. He had shoved papers, pencils, books, anything not nailed down into any available drawer. Dang, he was so proud of himself, though.

Another time I left him alone I came home to all of my furniture piled in the middle of the living room. I mean piled - tables, couches, chairs, toys, shoes - just in a heap. Erik really likes to vacuum, like really likes to vacuum and I will refer you above, to #2. Before you start thinking, "Hey, that's what you get for leaving him home alone." please know that sometimes what you come home to beats the heck out of dealing with him in public when he'd rather be home vacuuming.

Most recently Erik reeked havoc on a tree in my parents' back yard. We'd all been trimming honeysuckle off of some wires and instead of taking a lunch break Erik wanted to keep working. We let him go at it for a little while knowing that hunger would eventually win out. Later when we went out to finish one of the kids noticed some branches that were not honeysuckle.  Our eyes went to this:

This side looked okay, but then there was this:

He went all Edward Scissorhands on the bush.

This incident is a pretty great illustration of what it's like to love someone like Erik, someone who's body and brain do not always cooperate. Just like this bush, from the right angle everything looks okay but then you round the corner and BAM - it's a mess. The bush is not perfect but it's okay. We're going to keep it back there because it is still green and it still makes the yard look pretty and it hides the back of our neighbor's house. (My dad, after we all gazed perplexedly at the bush for a couple of days, said, "Well, if I'd known he was going to take that much out I'd have ordered a bigger shed for back there." Then we all laughed because it was funny.)

That's how my brother is - not perfect, but okay.  Unlike the bush with the big hole, Erik is not patient about waiting for the problem to solve itself. He wants to be an active participant in life, not a spectator. So he jumps in with everything he's got. He can look like he's doing okay and then, suddenly, not be okay, and we love him anyway because we know the whole story.

We know that Erik is the guy who loves to dance in the kitchen, who's favorite name to be called is "Uncle", who smiles on roller coasters like nobody's business. We know he's the guy that would walk one hundred miles to get a coke and candy bar and then gladly share it with you. We know that Erik, unlike this bush ever could, makes our lives richer.

Knowing Erik deepens my compassion. How can I not feel compassion for someone who has to work so hard at life?

Compassion is not the same as pity, though. I don't pity my brother. I do wish that things were easier for him, but then I wonder if I really wish he was more like the rest of us so that my life were easier. That's something to think about. Do I want my life to be easier more than I want his to be easier? Because the truth is he does complicate things, he does make life messier,  no doubt, but don't I? Don't you?

When you love someone who makes life messy you laugh during the good times and push against the hard feelings during the bad ones. You remember that making life easier isn't what this world is all about and you dig down deeper into who God says you are and you just keep going knowing that those verses from Ecclesiastes didn't just make good lyrics. They are truth and there really is a time for everything.

Then you go hide the hedge clippers and pray he doesn't ever decide to paint the house.


  1. Oh, what a beautiful and touching post Kara. You see such beauty in your brother and yet are so honest that it is not an easy road to walk. I love your thoughts on compassion and also love your Dad's humor with the shed comment : ) Have a great weekend.

  2. Hi Kara,

    Family is a complicated but invaluable thing, huh? :) How neat that your brother feels safe and at home with you and your family.

    Jennifer Dougan