“Coming Clean” by Michelle Jones

Are you one of those people who gives your teeth an extra good brush and floss when you have to see the dentist?  Do you wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or tidy up before the housekeeper arrives?  How about shampoo your hair prior to a salon visit?

I don’t like using labels like “compulsive,”  “neurotic,” or “three sandwiches short of a picnic.”  Partly because I think labels alienate people, but mostly because I prefer my given name or an approved nickname.

Yes, I do all of these things.  One of them might, by itself, seem a bit quirky.  Two might deem an individual eccentric or maybe a little peculiar.  Once counting begins to feel like compiling though (and don’t get me started on my whole laundry obsession!), I think we’ve moved on from quirks and peculiarities to symptoms of deeper things.

It didn’t take much prayer to diagnosis my issue.  God was obviously interested in making a point.  Underlying each of my foibles—and possibly yours—is the basic belief that people never get things as clean as you want them unless you give them a little help, a head start, if you will, to raise them to your standard.  I see it as a favor really, though I must confess that I also mentally take some of the credit for great outcomes.

This may not seem like such a big deal when we’re talking about teeth or dishes, but we are a different story.  Redeeming an unclean soul is a much bigger job.  It’s a God-sized job, and we can’t contribute in any way.  On our best day, our standard is no standard at all compared to His.  His standard is PERFECTION.

On Easter—Resurrection Sunday—we celebrate and acknowledge our zero involvement in our salvation.  Jesus died to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, not help us with something we’re merely struggling to do better.  God sacrificed His Son to do more than just clean up our behavior.  He is “making us clean,” something we have no power or desire to be on our own.

There is a line in the movie “The Philadelphia Story” where Katherine Hepburn says to Cary Grant, “Oh Dexter!  I’m such an unholy mess of a girl!”  That’s my anthem more often than I’d like to admit.

I wish I did things well and right even most of the time, but I don’t.  I’m terrible with my money.  I am overweight.  Right now, my apartment is a mess.  My relationship with my mom could be better, and with my two older brothers.  Envy, dishonesty, hopelessness, depravity, meanness, and cowardice all live in me, waiting for permission to speak.

I am an unholy mess, but Jesus died—and beat death by rising again—for this unholy mess.  By His Spirit, I am becoming new day by day.  If I have any grace to replace my taste for vengeance, it is because He gave it to me.  If there’s any correction in me, it sprang from His wisdom.

We have no gifts to offer the world except that He empowers us with them.  We have no purpose that was not born in His imagination.  There is no forgiveness for an offense that wasn’t driven through the spikes that nailed Him to that cross.

Without Him, we are nothing and we can do nothing, least of all become clean.  And if we can say anything at all to God, or can hear anything from Him, it is because Jesus made a way for it.

Like David, I wonder sometimes, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8: 4)

I try not to spend too much time there.  It’s too easy to wallow in my own unworthiness and forget what I’m worth to God.  I am priceless to Him, and He proved that when He bought me with all that He had.  If I’m never good enough for someone else—if I am never pretty enough or smart enough or nice enough to meet another person’s standard—I have proof that I am worth a King’s ransom!

You got a bad deal, Lord.  That’s what I used to think.  Paying so much to get so little didn’t make sense to me for a very long time.  But Love, I have learned, is about giving, not getting the best deal.  To pay everything for nothing is PERFECT LOVE.

To take an unholy mess of a girl, and give her the power to become Your beloved daughter… That’s just GLORIOUS.

(Wow.  I thought I was obsessive about my laundry!)


Father Figure by Michelle Jones

My dad was not a nice man.  In fact, sometimes he could be a real jerk.  I don’t think he liked me much.  If he ever smiled at me, I didn’t know it.  This morning though, I was really grateful for him.  He showed up in one of those impish flashes of memory that dart from one corner of your mind to another.  It was an odd appearance at an odd moment, or so I thought.

I was working out for the first time in a very long while; my thighs muscling the rest of me nowhere fast on the elliptical.  Ten minutes in I felt a hundred years old. The iPod was pouring Justin Timberlake into my head, but I couldn’t hear JT over my labored breathing.  I gulped down another mouthful of water.  It seemed to evaporate as soon as it hit my throat.  Eyes closed, I tried to “see” the songs, but the pictures didn’t stay long before my body reminded me that I…AM…DYING!

The only thing I could think about without interruption was quitting.  My feet, legs, arms, lungs and heart, even my bladder (all of a sudden the water’s got something to say!), every part of me was whining now.  They were all saying the same thing:  “This is haaarrrrd!”


The voice in my head cut through everything I was thinking and feeling.  It was my own voice, but not the one I have now.

I was 8 years old, maybe 40 pounds if you put rocks in my pockets, wild haired and energetic, with a mouth as big as I was small.  My tiny balled up fists were perched on bony hips, and wide eyes filled up with angry tears too stubborn to fall.

I was yelling up at my father whose face was a strange mixture of annoyance and shock.  He was good at shutting me down with an insult.  It was the quickest way to get me to leave him alone.  That day I had asked for help with my math.  My father was very smart, but he had no patience.  Sometimes he seemed to me a wonderful, treasure-filled house that had no doors and no windows.  There was just no way in.

He tried explaining the work for a few minutes, and then gave up, but I kept asking questions because I hadn’t given up.  Finally, he did what he always did when he wanted me to go away.  He said something mean.

He told me the problem was not the math.  It was me.  The answers were there, he said, but I was too stupid to see them.  Being stupid was like being nothing to my dad.  His mind was the only thing he’d let you admire about him.  It was also his weapon of choice.


If my father had chosen to punch me in the gut with all his strength, I would have had more air left in me than I did in that moment.  I couldn’t breathe.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to.


He stood there, watching me the way you watch a building demolition.  First you hear the muffled sound of explosions from inside the structure.  Then you wait, because you know that the real beauty is in how it crumbles—without noise or a lot of drama, neatly and completely.  He was waiting.  We both were.


That word whirled around dangerously in my head, smashing into everything I knew about myself, until it crashed quite unexpectedly into something big and immovable.  My father’s words had collided with Truth.

I almost didn’t recognize it.  I was so used to believing the smartest man I knew.  I had never disagreed with him before.  But here was something so simple and right, that as soon as I saw it, I understood it and it became a part of me.  When I looked up at my dad, I was pissed.

“This is 5th grade math!  I’m in the 3rd grade!  IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD!”

It was the only argument I remember having with him.  It was the last time I asked him for help.  It was the first time I knew I was smart.  And it was the first time I knew that it was okay for something to be hard.

I finished my workout today without quitting.  It occurred to me that I spend way too much time in this life trying to take the “work” out of my workouts. There is value in knowing something is hard and doing it anyway.  The fact that something is hard doesn’t mean you’re nothing.  It means you’re at the edge of yourself.  It’s an invitation to become something more.

Thanks Dad.

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