Dirty Dishes and Love Songs

It’s early.

The morning light still feels cold with sharp lines cutting between sun and shadow.

I open the blinds and catch the sunrise climbing over the power lines and trees. With its light, I breathe in a sense of possibility as I turn to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee.

And then I halt. Littered across the counters and piled in the sink are dinner plates, late night Tupperware leftovers, water glasses, La Croix cans, a spaghetti pot and colander—signs of life overflowing.

I tell myself not to resent this unending rhythm of dishes. I tell myself that the cleaning will go quickly.

But rarely do I stay kind when I clean.

How many hours of my life have I wasted while bitterly ruminating over a kitchen sink?

It’s not lost on me what this time could be. Cleaning offers a moment for ritual: the whispering of prayers, peaceful cadence of a soundtrack, or quiet inspiration of a podcast.

Why do I choose instead to twist the natural messes that form from doing life into signs that I am not being cared for?

Why do I choose to scrub dishes while my husband sleeps, and then resent him for sleeping? Wrist deep in soapy water, I ignore the fact that Aaron deep cleans the floors every Saturday and cleans the dinner dishes several nights a week.

The pattern here isn’t Aaron; it’s me. Before my husband, it was my roommate. And before it was my roommate, it was my parents or my siblings. I’ve had this habit since I was 13 years old, helping clean the house so my parents could host in our living room while my siblings and I watched TV upstairs. At 13, I told myself that I was being left out and taken for granted.

And while that message suited the angst and burgeoning independence of a 13-year-old who longed to be seen as an adult, it does not suit a woman of 32.

Because the truth is, the messes I get to clean are a gift. They do not speak to abandonment. They speak to belonging and goodness.

The stories we tell about our lives have the ability to shape (or warp) our realities.

Sometimes, we get to decide what our lives are speaking back to us.

Today, I’d like to reclaim what cleaning up messes says about mine.

“God, thank you for these blankets strewn on the couch. For last evening when we were cozy beneath them before tossing them aside to go snuggle in bed.”

“God, thank you for this beautiful casserole dish caked with lasagne cheese, a gift from my brother and his husband. It is one of the fanciest dishes I own, and I feel like a real chef when I cook with it. Thank you for surrounding me with people who notice the things I love to do.”

“God, thank you for bubble baths that let me breathe in comfort, although they leave the tub caked with soap scum. Thank you for moments of solitude to rest and be.”

The list could go on and on.

If you look for love in your life, you will find it. And if you look for abandonment, you will find that too.

My life is humming with love songs. What might it look like to start humming along day to day while I scrub dishes, do laundry, and fold blankets?

What might it look like to hum along to the love songs your life is singing too?

Katy (Johnson) Stafford dreams, writes, and occasionally podcasts in the messy middle of life. Newly married, Katy is spending her 30s embracing hope, longing, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called In Love, a memoir about loving your life beyond white picket fences. Occasionally, she also shares her thoughts here.