I stood in the entryway of my middle-class home in my above-average neighborhood, and my eyes scanned my lovely surroundings. I took in my leather sofa, my overstuffed chair, and the large portrait of my beautiful family.
And I wept.
I didn't cry because it wasn't nice or good enough.
I cried because it was too much.
It was my first day back from a life-wrecking trip to Africa, and I was burdened with more than the heavy luggage at my feet or the desperate need for a bed and shower. I was burdened with my mess.
At a glance, my home looked neat and tidy. Everything had a place; there was order. I've always been one of those irritating neat freaks, organized almost to a fault, and friends would scoff at my so-called mess.
But then sometimes we discover that we are the mess.
I traveled to Kenya in 2010 as a blogger with Compassion International. I knew it would be a life-changing trip, but I had no idea just how much it would alter my family and our future. I added new words and phrases like slums and orphan-led home and prostitution-for-food to my vocabulary. I stood on garbage floors where children slept, I walked through sewage on my way to cardboard shanty homes, and I inhaled smells I will never forget. I met the poorest of the poor—people who had nothing, not even enough to eat.
One of the people I met that day was a boy named Vincent, a sponsored child who was an orphan and also served as parent to his little brother. While we were standing there, I was startled when water began dripping through the cracks in the tin roof and hitting me on the head. I tried to move out of the way. I blocked out the sounds coming through the community toilet's walls, one that Vincent and his brother shared with their neighbors. I closed my eyes and listened to Vincent tell us how he walked miles to school every day, coming and going in the dark.
When I opened my eyes and looked at Vincent, he looked so peaceful. The light that radiated from his eyes filled the dark room of his hovel. How can he be so content with so little?
I couldn't stop the questions from coming out of my mouth. "Why are you so happy? Why aren't you afraid?"
He looked at me as if I'd missed it entirely. "Because I have Jesus."
He didn't say anything else. He didn't have to. It was enough.
He was right; I had missed it. Entirely.
I said I lived for Jesus but the truth was that Jesus really wasn't enough for me. Not like he was for Vincent.
But instead of feeling sorry for him, I was envious of him. I was jealous of the wide, carefree smile that lit up a room without electricity. I wanted the joy he and his brother had—joy I typically experienced when I bought something new or enjoyed a blessing in my life.
As I walked away from his home, I felt angry with God. I cried hot tears and clenched my fist and prayed, "God, how can you allow so much suffering?"
And in an instant, He asked me the same question: "How can you allow it, Kristen? What are you doing about it?"
I wanted Jesus to be enough for me, like he was for Vincent. I had traveled across the globe to tell stories like his, but I was having mine rewritten in the process.
When I returned to my neat, safe home, I didn't find comfort. I saw my life in a completely new light. Instead of appreciating all the must-haves I'd filled my home and life with, I only saw a lot of stuff I didn't need. But more than just possessions, I had a lot of faith. I'd been serving God most of my life. I attended Bible studies and church regularly. I was wrapped up in the culture of Christianity. But I discovered that something crucial was missing. I wasn't walking in daily obedience. I was the one who needed to be cleaned up. I saw someone who needed to make Jesus the center of her life. I saw that my imperfect life was the perfect place to say yes to God.
And that's where I found Him—in the middle of my mess.
I began saying yes in the little things, and I began to rebuild my life—or really, tear it down—so that I could have Jesus as the foundation. My family didn't sell everything and move to Africa, but we considered it. We did give a lot of stuff away, like our excess and even some money. But mostly, we said yes to God in the small daily decisions, and we made him the center of our lives. Instead of trying to fit him in here and there, we began to fit our lives into Jesus. We began to ask him what he wanted us to do.
One small yes led to another, and six months after I returned from that eye-opening trip, our family said the biggest yes of our lives. Against all odds and still quite messy, we founded a nonprofit in Kenya, Africa, called Mercy House Kenya. It's a maternity home that helps pregnant teenage mothers who are living in extreme poverty have their babies, and it offers them long-term care and assistance in every area of their lives.
I am still messy me. I haven't perfected my life so that I could say yes to God. It's impossible. But I said it in my mess. And this is where we find God. We find him in our inadequacy because he is adequate. We find him in our imperfection because he is perfect. We find him where we least expect.
God doesn't wait for us to have a perfect life. He doesn't expect us to get our act together before he asks us to do something for him. Some days I feel like that little kid in the Bible, with just a bit of fish and a couple of loaves in my rolled-up paper sack.
And God says, "Who will say yes? There's a need—who can meet it?"
I look at my lunch, and I know it's not enough. And I know God can do it without me. He can speak the Word and meet the need. But there it is: an invitation.
I can clinch that sack or hide it behind my back. Or I can offer my little lunch. It's not much, but it's all I have.
Because here's the thing: our yes may feel small, but God is big and so size doesn't matter. And we can turn down the invitation. We can walk away and enjoy our little lunch. And we will never know what we missed. But we will miss it just the same. We were created for more. We were created to say yes to God, right in the middle of messy lives.
So, wherever you are today—it may be a messy, broken place. Or it may be beautiful for the moment. Either way, it is a good and right place to start saying yes. Because that's where we find God, ready and willing to turn our mess in the miraculous.
Kristen is the author of Rhinestone Jesus (Tyndale 2014) and blogs at WeAreThatFamily.com. When she and her family aren't traveling to Kenya, Kristen and her husband and their three children live in Texas, where they enjoy going to football games and flea markets and trying new restaurants.