It started raining one afternoon on the preschool playground. My first thought was to postpone and wait for a sunny day, but my friend, Erin, quickly suggested that we move the playdate to her house.
I started thinking (or silently pre-judging), “Oh, she must have one of those immaculate houses. There is no way I could extend an impromptu invitation to mine.” My prerequisite for a company-ready house required at least several hours of advance notice. I also figured she must be a Super Mom since she had her three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a nine-month-old, and I only had my younger son with me.
I started making excuses, explaining why I was not equally prepared to open the door to my untidy house, but without giving it a further second of consideration, Erin graciously offered up her home again. I verbalized my awe and appreciation and conveyed my thoughts that she must have it all together. Erin politely corrected me and told me about the “Caboose Ministry.”
I had never heard of it before. Was it a nonprofit organization? I asked her about it, and she responded, “Oh, it’s not a real organization. It’s just what I jokingly call my ministry.”
Erin explained that she realized she could not compete in the race to be the best mom and housekeeper and that even if she did participate and win, the prized position of being first would only promote herself, leaving others behind. But by bringing up the rear — by being the caboose on the train — other mothers could see and be in her mess, helping them feel okay about their own chaos.
She understood how witnessing someone else’s imperfections allowed the spotlight to be placed on the more important things in life — spiritual priorities and relationships. She wanted to invite people past the entrapment of superficial appearances to go to a deeper level of transparency and authentic connection.
Erin humbly claimed the position of being the caboose, of being last, knowing that taking her eyes off of what she could not do would allow her to be content and focus on what she could do — love people and love God.
On the short drive over, I still doubted. I half expected one of those houses where people apologize ahead of time for the mess when the “mess” is just a few pillows out of place and two dishes in the sink. I arrived to find her house a real mess, and in it I saw a beautiful display of an imperfect welcome.
I politely took my flip flops off at the front door, not realizing my bare feet would crush scattered crumbs, and wait, did my foot just step in something sticky? I remember seeing unfolded laundry in the living room and a couch missing its cushions because it had been turned into a mini trampoline for the kids. Jelly might have stuck to my foot that day, but a deeper message stuck to my heart and soul.
When we left her house, my three-year-old said nothing about the condition of the house. No reference of a dirty bathroom or unvacuumed carpet. Instead, he said with an immense grin, “That was so much fun! Can we go back again?” That day Erin changed my perspective on what it meant to welcome others. She taught me that love outshines imperfection.
Eternal priorities often appear backwards today — we don’t prize being the caboose because being first seems better than being last. But one day, there will be a holy reverse, and the caboose will lead.
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Matthew 19:30 (NIV)