I have two older sisters who both grew up to be teachers. They are about ten years older than I am, and we lived in a very rural part of Wisconsin, and there was no cable or internet at our house. In other words, we had a lot of time on our hands, and my sisters used that time to teach me how to read and write and do math. And so, by the time I got to kindergarten, I could read fairly proficiently, while other children were still picking out the letters in their names.

When I complained to my mom that I wasn’t being challenged, she told me that everybody goes to kindergarten for different reasons. Some kids go to learn how to be away from their parents every day, and other kids go to kindergarten to learn how to read and write. “You,” my mother told me gently, “need to go to kindergarten to learn how to keep track of your things.” She was right. This was in the aftermath of my forgetting my lunchbox and thermos full of milk at school, and that thermos was never the same after that.

That year, while I was still learning the heavy weight of responsibility that burdens young students, I lost a library book. The title of the book was Snow. I remember searching the house, high and low, and the book could not be found anywhere. The teacher had all of the other students in class search their cubbies, and it was nowhere to be found. I had to stay inside from recess to write a disciplinary “plan” for my lost book, and I was told that the plan would be kept in my permanent disciplinary record. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I imagine it said something like, “I promise never to lose anything ever again.” It took me years before I would check out another library book, even though I loved reading.

Imagine my surprise when, years later, I developed a different kind of plan to graduate high school a year early (see above: rural Wisconsin). I held my breath as my high school guidance counselor opened my file to review the number of credits I was taking, imagining my scrawled kindergarten “plan” fluttering out and dashing my dreams of graduating early. How could they let someone so irresponsible get by with just three years of high school? Surely I’d have to take the full four years to learn my responsibility lesson.

Guess what? The kindergarten-library-book-plan was not in my file! Imagine that! I think the elementary school disciplinary folks might have been a little heavy handed in their dealings with little ol’ me; but I was from a poor school district, so maybe they just had to keep a tight leash on their library books. In any event, the relief I felt that my file didn’t contain the dreaded “plan” was immense, and I couldn’t believe that I’d hung on to the shame of it for so long.

By that time, I had developed quite a system for not losing anything ever again. I checked pockets for keys, backpack for homework, and never came to class unprepared. The thought of losing anything stressed me out.

By the time I got to law school, at a doctor’s appointment addressing the twin demons of anxiety and depression, my doctor found a third diagnosis: obsessive compulsive disorder. She began asking me questions about my closet, and how it was organized. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you know, are all the shirts together, and all the skirts, and all of the dresses, or are they all mixed up together?”

“They’re all organized by type,” I said, wondering what kind of gold star I’d get, or maybe if she wanted me to take a look at the clinic’s filing system.

“What would happen if one of the skirts was in with the shirts in your closet?” she asked.

“Why would anyone do that?”

“Would you be able to leave your apartment if the closet wasn’t in order?”

“God, no. But who would do that to my closet? What kind of monster…”

I didn’t get a gold star in my chart, but I did get a new diagnosis, and I never looked at my closet the same way again.

Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is great fodder for pop psychology humor and quippy memes, but living with it is not all that funny. It can be agonizing and distracting and embarrassing.

The lilies of the field and the birds of the sky don’t hold much water with me, but the widow with the lost coin? She’s my girl. Those photos where things are neatly arranged and organized by color? I gaze at them to lower my blood pressure.

With therapy and medication, I’ve been fortunate to keep my mental health trifecta manageable. But introducing children into the mix didn’t help. Pacifiers. Puzzle pieces. Legos. Library books…oh, the library books.

I could kind of keep up with the stuff of one child, but along with a second baby, we introduced a new phrase into our family lexicon: “better than it was.”

Is the toy room clean?

“It’s better than it was before.”

What about the sock situation in the laundry room?

“Better than it was.”

Did you sleep well last night?

“Better than I did last year at this time.”

“Good enough” has become good enough. There is grace in “better than it was,” and in a little bit of halfassery. Lowered standards have become the key to getting any sleep at night.

I tell myself this, but when one of the kids comes home with a library-book-past-due notice in his backpack, my heart sinks a bit. The law-and-orderliness of obsessive compulsive disorder pairs up with a heap of anxiety, and I forget all about the grace in “better than it was.” I might get an eye twitch, and there is definitely going to be some digestive hell to pay if the library book isn’t located post-haste. I want my kids to care about keeping track of their things, especially the library books — OMG the library books. But I don’t want to give them their own disorder, even if, selfishly, it would make the house tidier. I want to show them the grace that has been shown to me, and I don’t want them to have angst about their permanent record, like I did. I’d like them to know that I need to be forgiven for both the untidiness and the lost items, and also for my obsessiveness over them. I need forgiveness for the emphasis I’ve put on maintaining a clean permanent record.

The real grace, of course, is that our real Permanent Record doesn’t exist. The library books, the unwritten thank-you notes, and the untidy, unholy mess within and without do not matter at the foot of the cross. All of the disciplinary plans that we imagine could float out at any moment have already been shredded by the crucifixion. This makes me somewhat uneasy at times, because it really doesn’t feel all that tidy. I’d like to rely on my own (even disordered) thinking and responsibility in order to be found worthy of redemption, even if it means tracking down all of the missing library books. On the other hand, it is a great relief not to have to, and an enormous gift.

It’s been a long time since that kindergarten disciplinary plan, but now I have my very own kindergartner. Earlier this week, we found two of his missing library books and his missing Tae Kwon Do belt all in the same day. I practically skipped out of school, feeling like the shepherd with a whole herd of the formerly lost sheep, the widow with all of the gold coins, and the mother hen in Matthew 23, gathering her chicks close to her. Yes, I realize that all of those stories have to do with lost souls and not the Lost and Found bin. But the relief I felt was just the glimpse of grace that I needed.