Growing up I used to hate "cleaning day", because my mom would tell me to pick up my room, that the housekeeper was coming. Which I thought was pure irony. Wasn't it the housekeeper's job to clean. Why should I clean for her to come and do the same thing? But apparenly there has to be some portion of your bedroom floor visible if someone else is going to vacuum it. So once a week, after being reminded repeatedly...I'd roll my eyes and then pile everything on my floor on top of my creepy antique bed.I'd come home from school that day to find little lines in my carpet, the wood polished and all my dirty clothes, YM magazines, homework and mixe tapes all piled right back up on top of my now perfectly made bed with clean sheets. She'd even picked up my clear neon phone and placed it neatly on my bedside table. ( I loved that phone).
Then I moved off to college and there was no cleaning lady. But thankfully I lived in a room about the size of most people's closets so, how dirty could it get? Pretty gross actually, but thankfully there were plenty of James dean posters and Abercrombie ads to distract the eye from the fact that my 8X8 carpet square that I purchased used from some fraternity that probably pulled it out of the trash and had maybe never been vacuumed. Then I had a slew of roommates and almsot equally tiny apartments. And suddenly I am thinking that my cleaning skills might have a little bit to do with the fact that I went through so many roomies. (except for one that stuck it out for 3 years which I am sure had more to do with our shared loved of mexican food, dixie chicks and party of 5). Somehow the dishes got put away and the trash got taken out. And I almost never got my cleaning deposit back when we moved on to a new place. But when your couch comes from GoodWill and is held up by phone books how clean do you really need to keep it anyways.
I quickly learned that more space would only mean more responsabilities. Another roommate and I had one of our most memorable fights ever over whose turn it was to mow the yard. Becuase I am pretty sure that having my boyfriend do it twice in a row, counted as my turn X 2. She on the other hand, might have suggested we get a chore wheel.
These days, a chore wheel might not be a bad idea. Unlike, my parents I can not afford a cleaning person weekly. I have one come over once a month and my husband still cringes every time I write that check. But let's be honest, the sheets might never get changed any other way. To quote some Whitney (the TV show, not the singer), I am not exactly even sure what a top sheet is for.
Cleaning day is one of my favorites of the entire month. Even if it means I have to spend the entire night before frantically cleaning for the cleaning lady. Now I totally get it. And I love nothing more than walking in my front door on those days and smelling lemony cleaning supplies and later than night climbing into a perfectly made bed.
Butlately, the cleaning lady has been coming later in the afternoon. Instead of opening my door after a long day and noticing the shiny floor and taking a deap breath of clean, there is someone else sweeping my floors and wiping my counters. Probably muttering under her breath the whole time about how in the world anyone can live this way. I drive up and see her car in the driveway and try to think of some errand to run. I do not want to be there while someone else cleans up my mess. I have even considered calling the cleaning company and requesting that they send someone earlier. Someone I do not have to see sweeping up the captain crunchberries that may or may not be ground into the kitchen floor. Or my cheeks burn in shame about the fact that my bathtub is being used as a dirty clothes hamper or how much toothpaste my son has managed to cake onto his bathroom counter. I do not want to face the person that I am paying to clean up my mess. My ick. I just want them to take the check on the counter and make it smell pretty. I want them to battle with the fitted sheets, fold the toilet paper into that cute triangle and make those little vacuum lines on my carpet.
And it is less about being spoiled and more about shame.
I don't want to see the person who has to clean up my mess. I feel full of guilt, like I should suddenly grab the cleaning wipes and start scrubbing with her. It is my mess after all.
But I never do.
Wednesday, was Ash Wednesday. I am not that into formal religious things or tradition. Most Sundays I wear jeans to church, even though most people in my service have freshly ironed shirts and hair. But something about holy seasons like Lent and Advent have always appealed to me. Because I am real good at forgetting and love a season that will help me remember. So I skipped my lunch break that day because I read in the bulliten that there would be someone in the chapel doing the imposition of the ashes.
I love lent.And feel the need to lean into it more this year than I have in a while. I think I have only been to an Ash Wednesday service once in my entire life and I do not remember it at all. I couldnt tell you what it means or what happens. I just know that at the end everyone leavs with little charcoaly crosses on their foreheads.
So I go.
A group of older men gather in thelobby. Sipping coffee. laughing loudly.but the room I am headed for is deserted.
I walk in anyways and see one guy reading at the front. He puts his book down and walks away from the lecturn to the small altar placed in front.
I have done this before. Chosen the empty sanctuary over the crowded service for communion. And it is a little awkward but way more personal and holy.
I tell him he is going to have to tell me what to do. And he laughs a little and says there are no rules.He takes his time gathering ashes. dipping and redipping his index finger in the bowl.
I kneel because I figure I am supposed to. And I can still hear the old men swapping stories in the foyer.
And I suddenly realize I am not even sure what the ashes are all about.
Right about then he smears the ashes on my forehead and says words that peirce me.
"In the name of jesus christ your sins are forgiven"
And he steps to the side and leaves me to prayer or linger.
He leaves me with my sins. And it is just me. Left alont with my mess. That again, I am hoping someone else will clean up. And most days I don’t want to face that. I want to pray a quick prayer. I want cheap grace.
But today there are ashes on my head reminding me that it is not cheap.I don’t stay long, and I walk back to my car. A little heavy. A little covered in holiness. And I drive back to work.
Before walking back into the building I do something I shouldn’t. I take my jacket sleeve and wipe the ashes off my forehead. The moment seemed personal and mine and I do not feel like sharing it.
The afternoon passes quickly, I pick up my kids and go home thinking about dinner, practies, reading logs and my own papers to grade. There is an unfamiliar car in my driveway.
As I pull in the drive, my hand unconsciously goes to my forehead.And the words echo
“In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven”
Someone else is cleaning up my mess.
The one in my living room. And the one in my heart.
The least I can do is go in and face it.
And say thank you.