I love to set a beautiful table.  It makes me happy.

But setting a beautiful table is the easy part.  It’s a controlled environment.  I can place everything exactly how I want it.

However, if I want my table to stay perfect, then it has to stay empty.  And there’s really nothing beautiful about that.

If I want a full table – chairs filled with people that I love and people that I’m getting to know – then I have to accept the messiness, and the occasional broken dish, that will spread across my perfectly constructed space by the time the candles are burning low.

And yet – somehow – the disarranged place settings and the smiling faces and the messy dishes and the balled up napkins and the good conversation and the dripping candle wax at the end of a community meal creates something extraordinary.

Something with far greater meaning, value, and worth than an exquisite arrangement.

I always find that I like the beauty of people lingering around a messy table after the meal even more than that moment when everyone sits down at my perfectly set table commenting on how lovely it looks.

I’m learning that the same is true if I want a full life.

It is always so tempting to want the highlight reel.  A stream of picture perfect moments that demonstrate a life being well lived.

But a life that is merely a collection of pretty pictures is likely a life that is empty.  Because to fill up a life, you have to give up control of your tidy environment.  You have to add people and relationships.  And people always eventually make a mess.

For many years I wrestled with the tension of evaluating all aspects of my life through a perspective of being either good (beautiful and picture perfect) or bad (messy and broken).  But maturity is teaching me that this is a false narrative.

The truth is that I am both.  All the time.  As are all of the people in my circles of family and friends.  And my circumstances as well.

Peace is claimed in the acceptance that life was and is and will always be both.  Joy exists within profound difficulty.  And profound difficulties will always be a part of the best stories.

I’m done trying to work through the bad stuff so that I can get back to the good parts.  Or holding on to the good stuff with a white-knuckled grip, begging for nothing bad to take it away.

Because I believe that God can expand my soul to be big enough to hold all of it.  Joy amidst sorrow.  Hope within despair.  Love within hurt.  Forgiveness within disappointment.  None of these experiences are mutually exclusive.

I don’t have to just hang on and wait for one to end before other can begin.

I choose to experience a life of love and laughter and friendship at an imperfect table strewn with dirty dishes, broken plates, and balled up napkins.

Because a full and beautiful life is created by lingering there together.