a better mess

I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks writing off an on about being messy. I hadn’t planned it, but after my previous post on being messy and this one, it’s a theme I think I need to embrace.
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A few years ago, Charisse started swimming on a swimteam. She went to practices several times a week and eventually, she started entering competitions. The first meet, she got her first official times, including one DQ (disqualified – she didn’t turn right). Every meet after that, she had official times and was put into heats based on her previous times. Sometimes she would get so fixated on who she beat in her heat, or the other kids who were fast than her. We had to remind her over and over again that the only person she was trying to beat was herself. Every previous time, every DQ – those were her measuring sticks, not the girls in the lanes next to her. It was a thrill to watch her shave seconds off her times at each meet. Sometimes, in meet where she swam five events, she would cut a minute or more total. It was thrilling to see her grow.

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She was always proud of those dropped seconds. We were, too. They were her victory, proof that her hard work to better develop her technique was paying off. We cheered her on until our throats burned not because she was first or last in her heat, but because she was taking the time to improve in something she enjoyed.

Why is it so much easier to teach this lesson to a nine- and ten-year-old than it is to teach it to my 30-something-year-old self? I find myself these days often looking at the things I do now as I use the talents God gave me and I shrug off what I do as childish or unworthy, as not good enough. When someone gives me a compliment, I dismiss it by pointing out exactly the opposite of what the other person is telling me. I belittle myself. I have told myself often enough that I’m a mess and not to accept with grace compliments when they’re given.

I haven’t just told myself I’m a mess, I’ve bought into that lie that being a mess is what ultimately defines me.

It seems laughable when I write the words out like that. I mean, why I would I believe that the messy person I see looking back at me is who I truly am?

I have these three poetry notebooks from when I was in high school and middle school and reading them is both very sweet (I have lots of big emotions I poured into those empty lined paged) and cringe-worthy (because I had some crazy confidence that I was the next poet laureate). You can see the development in quality of poems as I got older, but then I look at what I’ve written more recently, and I see how even what was good back them pales to what I can do now.

It makes me think — if I can see the growth in the last 15 years, maybe I can spend a few minutes encouraging myself about that growth that will surely happen in the next 15 and 30 and 45 years. I won’t ever be the best writer, or the best speaker, or the best Christian, or the best anything, but I’ll be better at these things than I was in the past.

I think that is an excellent thing to be satisfied with: being better instead of being the best. I’m not that messy 15-year-old girl. And truthfully, I’m only going to be this messy 32-year-old woman for a few more weeks, and then I’ll be a messy 33-year-old woman, and the years will come, and the messes will change, and some will become a little less messy. My seasons will look different, and I’ll learn from my mistakes and my failures, and I’ll be better.

So maybe I am — and will still be — a mess. But you know what?

I am a better mess than I was before. And that counts for something.

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