Turning messes into masterpieces

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By Nancy Kennedy

When I was 16 or so I made sand candles.

A hole in damp sand acts like a mold that you pour hot wax into. When the wax dries, you lift out a candle and brush the sand off. Voila!

A friend taught me how to make them while we were at the beach one day and I decided it would be fun to try it at home. So, we loaded up my mom’s car with boxes of sand and once home, I set out to show Mom what I had learned by putting huge hunks of wax and red crayons in a pot on the stove to melt. Mom loves candles and I was eager to present her with a waxen masterpiece.

I thought I knew what I was doing, and I did know — until the wax got too hot and flashed into flames.

Panicking, I ran upstairs where Mom was taking a shower and, with faked calmness, asked through the door, “Um, how do you put out a fire on the stove?”

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that other than a lot of yelling and running and white powder (baking soda?) everywhere.

Later, in my attempt to make things right, I cleaned up all the white powder until all that was left was a pot of unusable red wax — which I poured down the sink and turned on the cold water.

That’s when the washing machine made a horrible groaning noise.

My mom called my dad and said, “Please come home NOW. Nancy —.”

That’s all she needed to say. Ten minutes later my dad walked in with a huge wrench in his hand and I ran. I wasn’t sure if he was heading for the plumbing fiasco or for me!

The truth is, I am better at making messes than I am at fixing them.

Another time I’ll never forget is when I made split pea soup and tried to hurry it along by dumping the hot, yet still hard, peas and broth into the blender up to the brim.

Not realizing that heat makes things expand, when I turned the blender on, the top exploded and split peas and broth flung wildly all over the kitchen cabinets ala the scene from “The Exorcist.”

Wisdom and common sense not being my strong points, I decided the mess could wait until later. That’s when I learned that split pea soup hardens like cement on everything it touches and I spent hours scraping it all off.

The only saving grace was that my dad and his big wrench were nowhere around.

Life gets messy, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite books is a thin volume called “Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People.” Before he died last year, the author, Michael Yaconelli, was pastor of a church in California “for people who didn’t like going to church.”

They were mostly a mess, Yaconelli said, and called himself the messiest of them all. He also said that we’re all messes, but some of us like to think we’re not.

He called messy spirituality “the place where our messiness and Jesus meet.”

He wrote about the myth of fixing ourselves and how people refuse to come to church and come to God “as they aren’t.”

“Some of us actually believe that until we choose the correct way to live, we aren’t ‘chooseable,’ that until we clean up the mess, Jesus won’t have anything to do with us,” he wrote. “The opposite is true. Until we admit we are a mess, Jesus won’t have anything to do with us.”

I love what Yaconelli said about our messes being where Jesus meets us. Instead of being repulsed by them (and by us), instead of being annoyed or disappointed or ashamed to be associated with us, instead of waiting until we get our acts together and be worthy of his drawing near, he draws near anyway.

He enters into our messy lives, actually seeks us there, saves us, redeems our brokenness, gives us worth.

As Yaconelli said, he turns our messes into masterpieces.

That’s good news to someone like me, who excels at making a mess.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.