When Life Gets Messy


Recently my husband and I drove up the Oregon coast, far from our landlocked Colorado home. We visited a beach at sunset. Incoming waves pounded black lava rocks deposited by some ancient volcanic eruption.


A bright starfish the color of the setting sun clung to a rock wall. Wave after wave pummeled it with the full force of an incoming tide. The tide would have crushed the strongest person and washed him out to sea. The roar was deafening… and exhilarating.


Between each wave I caught a glimpse of the starfish clinging to its rock unharmed, nourished by the waves.

My family is heading out again, packing the car to go camping. I can’t believe how much stuff is required to live “simply” for a few days. Tents, sleeping bags, coolers, air mattresses, lantern, batteries, marshmallows, cards, bug spray, directions… The mess laid out all over my house and garage is an apt metaphor for life, I think.

My life, like my camping gear is messy, spread out in all directions.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift from the Sea, the book we are reading together, shared a similar thought. (For other posts in this series click here or here.)

“It is an oyster, with small shells clinging to its humped back. Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing. It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life—here a sleeping porch for the children, and there a veranda for the play-pen; here a garage for the extra car and there a shed for the bicycles. It amuses me because it seems so much like my life at the moment, like most women’s lives in the middle years of marriage. It is untidy, spread out in all directions, heavily encrusted with accumulations and, in its living state—this one is empty and cast up by the sea—firmly imbedded on its rock.”

My life, like my camping gear and Anne’s oyster shell is messy, and encrusted with accumulations. This is fine, good even, as long as I don’t hang on to them hoping that they will give me stability and safety. All of the accumulations could be taken away instantly. So could my family. I remember hearing that the first half of life is spent accumulating stuff and the second half is spend giving it away. I think this is true not just of physical possessions but of everything we cling to.

What would have happened to the starfish if it had hung onto another starfish instead of to the rock?

Everything is secondary except my relationship with God. This is even true of the things I value most, need most. When there is one thing I think I can’t live without, it is likely that I am trying to find my safety and security and nourishment from it instead of from God. I am gradually learning to hold things and even relationships with an open hand. I enjoy them as gifts from God. When they are stripped away, I’m learning to eventually say with Job, “the lord gives and the lord takes away, blessed be the name of the lord.”  Sometimes I say it through gritted teeth at first.

I’ve noticed something. I can everyone else clearly but I can’t see my own face without a mirror. It is easier for me to see other people clinging to the wrong things than to see myself.

My husband is wonderful. I revel in the love, respect, and security he gives me. If I slip into squeezing these too tightly, depending on them more firmly than I rest in God’s care for me, things warp, I begin to demand instead of accept with gratitude. What is good is polluted.

I have many other things to be thankful for too, a bank account, children, good health, and opportunities to contribute meaningfully. None of these things can be allowed to be the most important thing in my life though. Some of my close friends lack these things and long for them. If I look to my blessings or focus too much on the things I don’t have, I will be tossed around and washed up when the tide comes in.

May we be starfish.

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5 Responses to When Life Gets Messy

  1. Katie Sturm August 9, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    This Starfish is hanging onto The Rock! 🙂

    • Beth Ratzlaff August 11, 2014 at 7:55 am #

      I know you are, friend!

  2. Carrie August 9, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Beautiful, Beth!


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