moneyFirst-world/grown-up problems alert: the plumbing in our suburban home continues to flare up and send me into an anxiety spiral every few weeks. Our master bath shower, situated above the formal dining room we never use (#kids), will occasionally–usually once I’ve forgotten it’s a possibility–develop a leak that sends water dripping onto the floor below, causing our older son to rush in, point to the puddle, and proclaim, “Uh oh. Wet,” just before transferring his point upward to the ceiling and the makeshift opening that’s been there for months, a product of the first of four plumbers we’ve had evaluate the situation, and the proclamations continue: “Hole. Uh oh–hole.”

Yeah. Uh oh. Despite the number of experts we’ve had visit our abode, and despite the number of times that ceiling has gone from damp to wet to sagging to leaking, no one seems to be able to pinpoint a problem. We had the bathroom remodeled before we moved in six years ago and my growing concern is that the contractor did a shoddy job, and one day the whole damn thing is going to fall apart. But until then, apparently, our plumbing manages to get its shit together anytime it’s under professional observation. Which is annoying to no end.

And also a nagging metaphorical reminder of the parts of myself I’m so good at pretending, in front of others, are in perfect working order when, underneath, the whole system is just one big broken mess.

plumbing-problem

I’ve said it here before: marriage and parenthood are the two most efficient sin-detection services I’ve yet to experience, exposing my endless brokenness on a daily (and nightly) basis. Even my “good” moments–those times when I’m not throwing my hands up in the hair, screaming, or wondering if 2pm is too early for wine–threaten to undo me. In fact, it may be especially those moments that are the most frustrating, because they reveal where I tend to place my worth and security: spoiler alert, in Law-upholding activities that with no context appear admirable but, when tainted by my own brokedown palace of plumbing, become yet more efforts to validate my worth.

What’s that? You’d like examples? Well let’s see…first thing each morning while the boys are engrossed in thirty minutes of Peppa Pig, I have some QT with Jesus on the couch beside them. The other morning the kids refused to honor this sacred time between me and the Savior and chose instead to climb me like a jungle gym. I stopped short before I said it, but the thought inside my head both shamed me and made me laugh at its utter absurdity: “Get off me! I’m reading the Bible SO I CAN LOVE YOU BETTER!”

Example two: fast forward a few minutes to the breakfast table, where I’ve begun reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible over cereal to the boys, and I’ll be damned if they don’t even appreciate it: interrupting me to ask for food as I’m discussing manna, throwing Cheerios to the floor, and in the case of the four-year-old, reciting the upcoming day’s activities. Did I mention that he recently began speaking? After years of delay? And that this miracle is lost on me when he interrupts my holy jam session? (HOW WILL THEY GET SAVED IF THEY DON’T LISTEN TO THESE STORIES?!)

One more example, this time at the closing of the day: I begin the first of two bedtime routines, this one with the toddler, who has to handle every book in his room before choosing one, then tosses it aside and repeats the process. Nearly clinically insane by this point, I seethe like a Disney villain through gritted teeth, “YOU ONLY GET ONE TONIGHT.” After that rationed book is completed, he proceeds to unwittingly slam my hair inside it and yank back, as I finally understand what this Mom Haircut is all about.

Meanwhile, the house continues to get dirty no matter how many times it’s cleaned, the plumbing remains a mystery, and no matter how many devotionals I read or Bible passages I memorize (just kidding–who has time for that?), I can’t seem to climb out of the pit of my own desperately flawed nature. Cue another sunrise heralding a day full of mistakes. I need something more than inspiration; I need imputation–another in my stead who can do it all perfectly. I need more than a sunny parenting blog when I’m feeling more gorilla than Chewbacca mom. I need more than charming stories when I feel like all I have are reports from the battlefield.

My husband and I recently saw The Martian, and I was struck by how the film conveyed the value of life in different forms. In this case, Mark’s crewmates deemed his life worthy of ultimate risk to their own, as well as months spent away from their families and the possible dissolution of their careers. Meanwhile, Mark was finding life on Mars in the form of vegetables fertilized by his own…ahem, plumbing. The beauty impressed upon me was the possibility of finding life where we least expect it, and of valuing it more than we knew we could: Mark’s friends realized the value of his life once they thought they’d lost him, and Mark likewise found reserves of fight within himself that he never would have summoned were his existence not at stake. This is love that summons sacrifice. Or as CJ summed up in a sentence that it took me six months to figure out while ruminating over the movie and single-handedly saving my kids’ souls: “…the value of a life…can only be determined by love, which can only be determined by sacrifice.”

screen shot 2015-09-15 at 2.26.16 pm.png

I think one of the hardest parts of being a parent, dare I say a mother, is having to always be the bad guy–eat your vegetables (as if), go to the potty (as if-er), time for bed (oh sweet relief)–and this identity follows me into bed every night as I berate myself over all the ways I’ve failed, all the things I regret. My life since spawning children has become unrecognizable to me in many ways–at least, to the “me” I was before–with its screechiness (my kids’ and mine), my formerly pristine car that now looks like I’m perpetually hosting a Homeless Woodland Creatures’ Convention inside it, my purse that used to be orderly and clean but now boasts various types of cracker crumbs, Legos, and urine/poop-catching undergarments. But when I look more closely (and less cynically), I recognize the other ways I’m different: how I’m surrounded by deeper relationships built on more solid foundations; how I actually get angry less now–or at least my anger is defused more quickly and gracefully; how I love more deeply than I knew I could. There are occasions when this view of life as it is now comes into sharp relief, and it’s typically when we’ve stepped (or been forced to step) away from that life–by loss, illness, being stranded on Mars, or just procuring a babysitter for the evening. In those moments, I see how my brokenness can cripple me. How beautiful my life really is. How I’m being saved by a grace that works through both.

We’ve been potty-training our preschooler for…ever, I think? The rigor of the process, coupled with my son’s frequent resistance, often wears on me to the point of making me feel an inch from undone by the whole thing. Talk about being the bad guy: I can’t win for losing. Either I’m forcing a crying kid into a bathroom, or I’m delaying the process and earning yet another disapproving lecture from his drill-sergeant therapist who has gotten involved in the name of “helping.” The other day she handed me a sheet and explained that I was to take him to the potty every 30 minutes and enter the results. As she left, I looked at the sheet and wanted to cry, knowing the response to each of the blank lines would involve his crying or my lying. Then a wonderful thought crossed my mind: this sheet of paper was the law. Every thirty minutes is a brand of perfection that the therapist can keep up because she’s here for two hours; but over an entire day? After day? After day? Not possible. Sorry. “That’s the law, baby,” I told the paper and by proxy the therapist (I would be too scared to say it to her face). I’d scarcely begun to appreciate the weight that was lifted off me before the even better news hit me: If she’s the law, then I get to be the grace. I GET TO BE THE GRACE!

The next day, I teamed up with the therapist for another potty-training session. While she sat in front of the toilet and my son, looking away so as not to distract him, he and I shared secret grins and quiet laughter. Grace. When I stepped out, though, I overheard her tell him,“Remember that time I took a video of you laughing? I look at it all the time–it makes me happy.” And I thought about how even the law can be beautiful, as it forces us to see the life we never could have lived and in doing so, makes space for the One who did–and the life he saves us into.