I love doing laundry.
There’s something about the routine of it that calms my spirit.
Maybe it’s the slowness required to sort a pile into darks and lights that brings me a bit of peace in the crazy of this world. Maybe it’s checking something off the list of chores that I have to do. Maybe taking the dirty, overused, stained pieces of clothing and washing them clean again makes me feel as if the dirty, overused, stained parts of my life are being remade. Regardless, there’s something about doing laundry that I just love.
But, I can’t bring myself to do my laundry.
I’ve been home for over five days now, and my suitcases are still sitting untouched in the entryway. I’m running out of underwear and I’ve been wearing the same shirt for three days now, but I just can’t bring myself to unpack those bags.
It’s as if cleaning the sweat and stain that 4 months of South Africa left on my garments will wash out the memories and lessons, laughter and tears, heartache and joy that I experienced on the other side of the Atlantic.
Well I’ve finally plopped myself down next to the bags that hold all my earthly possessions for the last semester. As I’m sitting here, clothes and toiletries and souvenirs strewn around me, the memories come crashing in like a flood.
The fabric of the brand new APU sweatshirt that I stuffed in my bag four months ago is now balled and worn from countless nights of use. The Azusa Pacific label is cracked and faded, and as I clench it close to my chest I can smell the tea tree oil that spilled in my bag during travel.
My favorite black jeans have something caked on the back pocket that I must have sat in at our favorite local restaurant the last night we spent in Cape Town.
My leggings need a serious washing after traveling with me up Lions Head, Table Mountain, and Elsie’s Peak – all hikes that symbolize the mountains I conquered in my heart.
The shorts that fit a little tighter after months of tea time pastries, the elephant pants that still smell like the market I purchased them at, the headbands with face make up staining the underside – I’ll never be able to wear any of these again without thinking of the memories that I made in them.
For some of you clean freaks out there, sorting through my dirty laundry with me isn’t exactly what you hoped to do in reading this blog post. But as I sit here surrounded by coffee stained tank tops and mud caked tennis shoes, I can’t help but think this mess is quite beautiful.
This is reality, is it not? The truth of who we are – dirty, overused, and stained. But our Maker keeps putting us in the washing machine. Purifying us, sanctifying us until we are ready to be used again.
Aren’t your favorite pieces of clothing the ones that have been through the washer countless times? That pair of blue jeans that fit your hips just right no matter how many pounds you fluctuate; the ratty old t-shirt that you justify keeping because you can’t fall asleep in anything else. With each washing they become more malleable, more comfortable, and you become more ok with their imperfections.
My cheesy, over-sentimental brain can’t help but think of my soul as that pair of blue jeans or that ratty t-shirt. Dirty and old and needing to be washed by my Maker. My stiffness forced out by the spin of the “washing machine.” My heart more malleable after the “fabric softener” forces its way into the fiber of my being. More confident in my imperfections each time I am hung out to dry.
That’s just a bit of what South Africa was for me. Some of the messier parts of my soul quickly rose to the surface as trials and hardships surrounded me. I faced difficult situations, and I’m sad to say that I did not always react as I should have. I made mistakes. I let crummy days affect my attitude. I turned away from Jesus when I should have turned towards Him.
There were times when I was dirty, overused, and stained – times when I was in serious need of a washing. And just as always, He was so good to give me one.
The person who packed these bags and left four months ago really doesn’t exist anymore. In her place is one whose perspective is wider, whose heart is bigger, and whose clothes are definitely a bit messier. But I’m pretty sure her heart, with all its stains, wears, and tears, is a bit more of what it’s supposed to be.
Learning and growing, falling down and getting back up, getting dirty and then getting cleaned up again. So is the life that we live.
From one cycle to the next, He always promises to wash as white as snow, and I am so thankful for the cleansing process that studying abroad in South Africa was for me.
So as I sort through piles of my dirty laundry, I can’t help but laugh and cry to myself as each article of clothing brings a new memory to my mind. No amount of cleaning will ever wash South Africa out of these clothes.
No amount of time will ever wash South Africa out of my heart.
Well – time to go do my laundry.