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Bay Window: Life is messy, but magically so

Have you ever noticed how some things seem to look a lot better on paper than in reality?

Take, for example, life.

As a child, after my parents split up and my world fell apart and nothing seemed to be going my way, I sought refuge in a paper fantasy.

One day, when I was 6, visiting my dad, he took me to a store that sold newspapers and magazines and other fancy stuff. Then he told me to pick out anything I wanted, as long as it didn’t cost more than what he had in his wallet, which he opened wide to show me: a whopping $5 bill.

Maybe it was my birthday. Or Christmas. Or heaven. It felt like all three. I spent the next hour perusing every aisle, every rack, every shelf until finally, I found it, the perfect gift:

A big fat book that opened to form a four-room (plus bath!) paper dollhouse, complete with paper furniture, paper food, paper clothes and, best of all, a perfect paper doll family.

The dad wore a tie like Jim Anderson on “Father Knows Best.” The mom wore lipstick like Jim’s wife, Margaret. They had three paper kids: A boy about my age; a girl who looked like me, only her hair was smooth, not ratty; and a baby that looked like a baby.

They even had a paper dog that looked just like Lassie, except, of course, smaller.

I loved them at first sight. I held my breath as the clerk took his time checking the price. Then he nodded at my dad, grinned at me and said, “I think $5 ought to cover it.”

No gift in my life (short of the births of my real children and grandchildren) would ever thrill me more. My dad spent hours helping me cut out everything – the dolls, all their clothes, even their food. He said that the next time he let me pick out a gift, it would have to be bait for a hook.

Finally, we finished, and I was free at last to create the lives of my paper doll family. I wish you could have seen them.

Nothing bad ever happened in that paper house. No harsh words were spoken. No tears were shed. No hearts were ever broken. The mom and dad never fought. The baby didn’t cry. The boy didn’t bully. The dog didn’t relieve itself on the rug.

And the girl? She lived the life of my dreams. There was plenty of everything good – good food, good laughs, good times – grace and peace and joy.

It was perfect. I told myself that someday I would have a real house, a real family, a real life of my own. And it would be perfect, too.

Yes, this is where Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?”

For the record, my real children were born perfect. But they wasted no time setting me straight on who was in charge of our lives. It wasn’t me. And it wasn’t always going to be pretty.

Real life was messy. Real hearts got broken. Real dogs did real things on the real rug.

The kids grew up and left to find real lives of their own. The mom missed them like crazy but had to let them go. And the dad, well, he got cancer and died.

It was anything but perfect. And yet, through it all, there was so much goodness – boundless grace and peace and joy.

Real life and real families are never about perfection. I know that now, but I seem to forget it. Then I’ll knock myself out trying to smooth rough edges, make everybody happy, force the pieces of the puzzle to fit in ways that were never meant to be.

I tend to keep doing that until I get sick. Or until someone who loves me tells me to knock it off.

Then I will stop, and be still, and remember what I know:

Life is messy. If I want to live it well, I need to let it be; never miss a moment trying to make it what it’s not; and wrap my arms around it for the wonder that it is – a messy old world full of grace and peace and joy.

I will meet you there.