The Clean Up Crew

The chips are eaten, the cake’s been cut, the streamers are torn, the pizza is cold, and the drinks are warm. Smiling faces sink into the couch, warm milk babyface contentment fills the room.

Parties are great. They’re exciting and can make you feel loved. But what happens when the party is over? Many times, everyone is happy to celebrate, but when it’s time to clean up the aftermath – everyone has to leave. It makes me think about the cleanup crew. What motivates the people who stay behind to clean up? Who are these quiet individuals who collect and pile, fold and stack, wipe and sweep, dispose of, package, or put away all of the decorations, leftover food, and garbage? Who signs up for these jobs? They don’t get recognition for creating a beautiful environment or providing the most delectable food – usually, they live quietly behind the scenes.

I must confess, the cleanup crew is my favorite. My mom always signed up for cleanup in literally every area of her life. At church, we were always the last ones in the room, folding tables, wrapping up dishes, emptying the trash, and wiping down the tables. Even when I came to visit her home with my kids, I’d start marshaling the children to clean up when it was close to the time to leave. Invariably, she’d stop me and ask me to leave it. “I love cleaning up, it reminds me that you were here,” she’d say.

Mom was shy. She loved gatherings and having company, but always wanted me to be there since she figured I could make the conversation. But when the guests were filing out and saying their goodbyes, Mom lit up and went to work. About a year after my Mom died, my sister-friend (you know – the friend you’ve known longer than your spouse who is more family than family) was called for jury duty. She was sitting in the jury room waiting and began to do what she does best – chit-chat. Somehow or another, this person mentioned where she worked, and my sister shared that she knew someone who had worked there.  Mom was not generic looking so when her Irish accent, curly hair, glasses, and 4’10” stature were mentioned along with the fact that she had been a nurse – the woman knew exactly who she was speaking about. The jury- room lady then went on to explain that this year they had been sorely missing my mom, but didn’t know who she was. Every year there was a big celebration for the Martin Luther King and Black History MOnth. It was a big event and always needed lots of prep work and clean up. There was always a way to sign up to work, but this year, the list was short. The woman was wondering why things were moving slowly and realized there was a worker missing. She checked the list, but there was no unaccounted for name. She checked the previous year’s lists, and it hit her that the little lady who quietly came to work year after year – never signed in – she just helped. She asked around and found out that Mom had just passed. When my friend called me later that evening, I was touched and reminded about how she was so good at doing the jobs no one wanted to do.

God does that. He loves us and provides for us even when it doesn’t bring HIm glory. He is there when our tears and snot run together in streams of grief. He is there when we are down and out – even if we have forgotten about him when we are up and in the limelight. Jesus was the ultimate clean-up crew, and the bible is full of stories of people who would have been considered disposable – reviled – trash,  being ministered to by The Most High. From Ruth who was only a widow to Rahab the prostitute, lepers, the demon-possessed, and tax collectors, to the woman at the well – God came in as the clean-up crew and changed their lives forever.

Long after the glitter we’ve grabbed for is scattered on the floor showing itself to be only the cheap plastic trappings of a momentary high, we can fall into the grace of a God who knows all about our temptations, our troubles, and our failures and longs to pick us up, dust us off and nourish us with his love. How about the next time we see someone who isn’t doing so well, isn’t wearing the best clothes, which may be mildly annoying or quirky, perhaps awkwardly standing alone – why don’t we share the gift we have been given and tell them about the One who’s been busy cleaning up our own lives?

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