The following essay was taken from Melanie Shankle's new book, Zondervan. All rights reserved.
The truth is, real life doesn't usually resemble what we see on any kind of screen, especially the big screen. There are dishes to be washed, beds to be made, and laundry to be done, and no one wants to see a movie about that. Also, can we talk for just a minute about the laundry? It never ends. I didn't understand for a long time that the real reason I only had one child was because God knew I couldn't handle the laundry for any more than that, but I know it now without a doubt. The laundry will cause your soul to shrivel up and die because it's a battle you can't win. Are you sitting on your couch right now feeling smug because you believe you've actually washed and put away all your family's clothes? Then let me ask you a question. Are you wearing clothes right now? Did you send your kids off to school wearing clothes? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all those things are now dirty laundry. It never ends.
Whether you are married or single, have kids or are childless, work from home or in an office, volunteer for the PTO or just watch a lot of Netflix on your couch, life has its ups and downs. It's messy and hard and beautiful and wonderful, sometimes all within one hour. If I could sit down across from you (and I so wish we could make this happen), I would share that perhaps the thing I've learned the most over the last several years is that we all have a tendency to compare our lives to others' and think everyone is living a better story than we are. With social media, it's never been easier to get a glimpse into strangers' lives and decide their marriage is better, their house is cleaner, their kids are better behaved, while we are just a step away from living in a van down by the river and we don't even care because our children are so ill-behaved that it would seem like a vacation.
I've read so many articles about what porn does to a man and why it's so damaging, but as women we deal in some form of what might be called "emotional pornography" all the time—often without even realizing it. We fantasize about how life would be so perfect if only we had that new couch from Pottery Barn, if only our kids wore smocked dresses instead of that same old Gap T-shirt with the stain on the front, or if only we could finally lose that last ten (okay, fifteen) pounds of baby weight and fit back into our skinny jeans.
About three years ago, I made a mistake of epic proportions and let an interior designer friend talk me into buying a white couch. I really can't put the sole blame for this purchase on her, though, because the truth is I'd been pinning white couches on Pinterest for months along with doing Google searches like "How hard is it to clean a white couch?" "Am I crazy for wanting a white couch?" and "White couch: friend or foe?"
Every blog post I read by someone who'd made the decision to buy a white slipcovered couch raved about how it was just so easy to maintain. Sure it gets dirty, but you just take those slipcovers off, throw them in the washing machine with some bleach, toss them in the dryer, and your couch is as good as new! As good as new! In fact, it's even better because you have the smug satisfaction of knowing your couch is cleaner than your neighbor's couch because who knows what horrors lie within that dark taupe fabric that the eye can't see.
So I drank the Kool-Aid and bought a white couch. Ironically, I could never drink actual Kool-Aid on the white couch, because there are some stains that cut too deep — specifically stains from powdered drink mixes that can also be used to dye hair.
The day the white couch was delivered was perhaps second only to the day my daughter was born on the scale of best days ever. My living room looked like it was ripped straight from the pins of Pinterest. (If it weren't for Pinterest, none of us would know that there is actually a decorating style called "Vintage Industrial Train Station," so basically Pinterest was created for the purpose of making women everywhere feel like we aren't living up to our potential.) And for that one glorious day—let's be honest, it was more like two hours—I defied every teacher I'd had throughout school who wrote, "Does not work to full potential" on my report cards because I was—as Whitney Houston sang—EVERY WOMAN. It was all in me.
I strategically placed my multi-colored throw pillows on that white couch and then took a slew of pictures to post on my blog, Instagram, and Pinterest, because if an awesome white couch falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it really exist?
Then life happened. My husband Perry came home from a long day of landscaping work and innocently sat on the couch to try it out, leaving behind a bottom imprint made of dust and grime. "OH NO! THE COUCH!" I cried as I wiped my hand across the cushion furiously, trying to erase the dirty mark. Perry glanced at me with a look of pity as he remarked, "Well, this couch is going to work out beautifully. Totally worth the money because who needs a couch you can actually sit on? That's for regular people."
I realized I'd made a tactical wife error so I immediately switched into a more laid-back mode. "Well, the beauty of this is it's all slipcovered! It's a wash-and-wear couch! It doesn't matter if it gets dirty because I'll just wash it with bleach and it will be brand-new again! This is the best money we've ever spent! I promise! It's all fine! Everything is fine!" A week later, I had some girlfriends over for a wine night, and one of them accidentally spilled almost an entire glass of Cabernet on the center cushion. I played the role of gracious hostess as I explained, "It's no big deal because BLEACH!"
The next morning, I stripped all the slipcovers off, washed and bleached them for the first time, threw them in the dryer and then began putting them all back on the cushions. That's when I discovered all those white couch evangelists are either gluttons for punishment or in much better physical shape than I am because people have finished triathlons with less sweat and exertion than it took me to get those slipcovers back on the cushions. There was profanity involved. I tore my clothes and covered myself in sackcloth and ashes when it was all over. What fresh hell hath Pinterest and my pride wrought?
I couldn't admit to Perry that I'd made a costly, tactical error. Even as he occasionally declared, "Babe, we aren't white couch people," I insisted we were. We are clean. We shower. And look how good that couch looks for all of thirty-eight seconds once every three months when I muster the inner fortitude to wash, dry, and repeat.
Then we brought home two new puppies, Piper and Mabel, who developed a penchant for flying through our back door and making a running leap onto the white couch, muddy paw prints be hanged. This was the final straw that proved to be the tipping point of my delicate grasp on sanity, which resulted in a tearful confession to Perry: "I can't do this. I cannot live like this. BABE, WE ARE NOT WHITE COUCH PEOPLE! ERRBODY BE SO TIRED OF THIS WHITE COUCH!"
He hugged me, and I'm sure there were all manner of "I told you so" comments raging inside his head, but he is a smart man and just said, "Why don't we look into getting a new couch?" And with that, I ordered a new brown leather couch so fast it would make your head spin. Brown. I wanted all brown. I am a brown-couch-that-can-be-wiped-clean-with-some-leather-cleaner kind of person. It's not nearly as Pinterest-worthy but it helped me quit walking around like a woman in need of a lot of medication, although I continued to be a little disappointed that I wasn't up to the white couch challenge. Maybe those teachers were right after all, and I'm not living up to my potential.
But you know what I was doing with all my visions of what life should be, could be, and ought to be based on Pinterest and bad movies from the '70s and '80s? You know what we all do when we sit around thinking about our Fantasy Someday?
We miss the holiness of this moment we're living right now.
There will never be another one like it. And even if that makes you think "THANK GOD, BECAUSE MY LIFE CURRENTLY STINKS," there are still lessons to be learned, character to be built, and stories that will be told about where you are right now. God takes all of it—the mundane and the ugly, the clean couch and the wine spills, the ordinary and the occasional extraordinary — and when we allow him to add his grace, his mercy, and his outrageous love, he adds a brushstroke there and some color here and so paints it all into one glorious work of art, one that only he can achieve through us where we are right in that moment — in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our classrooms, in our communities and world. No one else can live our story. So maybe it's time to embrace all that is uniquely ours and realize that is exactly what makes it special.