A few months ago, I got a desperate email from a homeless mother who was scraping by at the local Motel 6. With only a few bucks and even fewer friends, she reached out to the only person she hoped might lend a hand. I had met her ten years prior through an outreach ministry, but hadn’t seen nor heard from her in more than eight years until I ran into her this past 4th of July.
I walked away from that unexpected encounter fully aware that it was no accident. When the cry for help arrived in my inbox several weeks later, I didn’t have to labor over the decision to help her; God had already prepared me. So, without hesitation, I offered her the opportunity to live with my family for a minimum of six weeks.
When Amanda arrived at our home the next day in a beaten-up, stuffed-to-the-gills compact car, disheveled and reeking of smoke, I suspected this might get messy. All suspicions were confirmed when she returned a second time with a German shepherd and two cats. I nervously confessed to my husband later that day, “I have a feeling this is as much about what God wants to do in our lives as what He wants to do in her life.” I couldn’t have been more on target.
For the next ten weeks, whether we felt like it or not, Amanda, her children, and pets became part of the fabric of our home and lives. Her burdens became our burdens. Her mess had our name on it. As a teenager, I was unscathed by messes; now they undid me. My anxiety soared as I walked past the open door to the room where Amanda had taken up residence. In a short period of time, she had managed to turn my 5-year-old son’s room into a shambles. Add to that the coffee stains, breakfast crumbs, and spoiled food, and suddenly everywhere my eyes landed was a disaster.
But what really bothered me was the foul aroma of neglected animals and residual nicotine that began to squeeze out our home’s usual “Good-Housekeeping” scent. I feared we might never recover our comfortable home and lives.
Then, one day, in my distress, I cried to the Lord and asked for His perspective, which had been lost under a pile of dirty laundry somewhere. Out of nowhere, I “heard” two surprising words in my spirit: “So what?” I got the point. So what if I’m uncomfortable? So what if my house smells for weeks or months after she leaves? So what if my carpet gets an indelible stain? Aren’t people always more important than possessions? What if every time we see that stain, we see the face of a woman that Jesus loves who may share eternity with us because we loved her too? What if the red lipstick stain serves to remind us of the blood Jesus spilled to cover our messes? What if every time I breathe in a remnant animal odor, I think about my Savior’s humble birthplace?
I surrendered to the bigger picture that day. Frankly, I frequently had to exchange my zoom lens for a wide-angle lens. One day, as I was still surrendering to this new perspective, our new neighbors knocked on the door, and I invited them inside. Often when people step into our home for the first time, they will politely compliment our home’s décor. But this time was different. My neighbor blurted out,”Your home smells so beautiful! How do you make it smell so nicely?” I smiled and said, “Thank you,” while trying to keep my mouth from hanging open. I thought to myself, “God’s funny,” but after they left, I ruminated over the comment and wondered what pleasant aroma she could have possibly smelled. The only answer that came to me was: it is the fragrance of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 2:15, NKJV: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
I had been so concerned about the odor in my house, as if it were mine tobegin with, but somehow, through the love, sacrifice, and grace God enabled us to demonstrate, the fragrance of Jesus still won out! Our house guest has moved on, and most everything has returned to normal, though I truly hope that as individuals we will never be the same. I hope we’ll walk through this life more humble, more grateful, and more willing to get a little messy for Christ’s sake.