It all started with a blue wig, one I adorned in a shining moment of July 4th patriotism. I was in the middle of a month-long Young Life assignment at Trail West Family Camp, leading and living life with a few dozen high school students trying their hands and feet at serving Jesus. Some of them washed toilets and laundered questionable substances off of bed sheets; some of them served meals and set tables with the detailed precision of the Kingdom; others led and loved on children no matter how loudly (oh, how loudly) they screamed. All of these jobs required my girls to put others’ needs before their own, to work with people they loved but didn’t always like, and to collapse before Jesus when they couldn’t stand another second.
July 4th was a difficult reminder for many of us that we weren’t at home kicking back with our families. We were separated from what we knew, well out of our comfort zone, and (I know it wasn’t just me), utterly exhausted. At this point in the month, so much had risen to the surface for the Work Crew - an abundance of brokenness, fear of the future, and regrets from the past. Serving selflessly in the midst of Jesus shaking you awake to your own life is not an easy task; doing so with a 24/7 smile is nearly impossible. (Full disclosure: Smiles were rare when I woke them up at 6 AM with my fellow boss and now lifelong partner in crime, Betsy. Sorry about that, girls. Actually… not really. Don’t you appreciate your normal alarm so much more now? You’re welcome.)
So it was on July 4th that I pulled on a blue wig, hoping the degree of ridiculousness it supplied would distract from homesickness and that the joy would be contagious. I was told I looked “ratchet,” that I appeared to be attending a “patriotic rave,” and that I “should consider blue hair for real.” Mostly, though, I received slight head shakes and raised eyebrows (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth) that silently said, “Of course Carlee is wearing that wig.” Then, one girl muttered the sentence that brought the wig to a whole new level:
“I wish we could all dye our hair blue.”
And wouldn’t you know it, I happened to have some blue hair dye in my bag (Classic Carlee, I know).
That night, surrounded by the mess that accompanies 20-something high school girls living in a dorm together (a mess made exponentially worse by Mom/Betsy being gone on a trip that weekend), we streaked our hair blue. We were all cried out, tired, poured out; and yet, for that moment, it seemed like we were full and light. Laughter abounded and there was something purely joyful in us. (Admittedly, it could have been the chemicals in the hair dye, but I choose to believe it was the Spirit.)
After dye time was over, I stood there with my blue-stained hands outstretched looking at the mess in front of me. My first thought was how Betsy and Megan Money were going to kill me when they saw what I had done to the counters. My second thought was about how there was something really holy about that moment.
Whether it’s 24 high school girls, 28 urban kids, a challenging family member, or the crazy guy following you around the supermarket (just happened), loving others the way Jesus calls us to love is messy. And if you’ve been hurt like me, you know the mess is the thing that builds up a wall in us. It’s the voice in our heads that reminds us diving all in is bound to leave us heartbroken. We know that real, messy, beautiful love requires us to change our preconceived notions of people and of ourselves.
Yet, this is the holy ground where Jesus bids us to walk - to love abundantly and deeply without expectation of earthly reward. To get elbow-deep in blue dye just for a taste of God’s heart for his people. To go, whether we feel qualified or not. What a mystery, isn’t it? Jesus calls the depressed to pour out joy, the mentally unstable to be an anchor, the deserted to become a guiding light. He puts the Kingdom of infinite wealth in the hands of the poor, shows up most easily in the eyes of children. I saw that messy love in my Work Crew, in the way they lived in community with each other and the way they poured out the best of themselves for people they didn’t even know. It was beauty in the rawest form.
That said, it was never easy. I’ll tell you truthfully, there were days during that month where my hands wanted to close around the throat of a high school student or two. There were days I wanted to smack myself for some mistake I made or graceless thing I said. There were days where all I wanted to do with those hands was hold my head in them and cry. There were days I wondered if I was making an impact at all. (There were also days I just wanted my hands to be steering a bus, but that’s another story for another day.)
But right then, holding out my blue-stained hands in front of me, it felt like worship. It felt like I had done something to draw closer to the heart of my Beloved. It felt like a reflection of things to come (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Now I find myself back in the valley from my mountain high and it’s even more difficult to go all in. I’m not surrounded by people who love Jesus or are here to serve others no matter the cost. In fact, I’m not surrounded by people at all.
But I’m clinging to that feeling and trusting in God’s provision. I want to be all in when it comes to loving the people I’m with, regardless of where they are in their story. I want to see what He sees and love how He loves. I want my hands, my counters, my heart to be stained with reminders of of the Kingdom.
So here’s to blue dye and embracing the mess. Let’s get elbow-deep.
With (messy) love,
and I’m like…