Why I Save Stuff

Moving from a house to an apartment, albeit a large apartment, made me realize just how much stuff I have.The place for my stuff (thank you, George Carlin) is in boxes and Sterilite containers. Some of it had appeared in the last two or three years. Most of it has not seen the light of day in a long time. I’m talking decades.

However, in a quest to condense and pare down the number of boxes, I began sorting through everything. One box contained elementary and junior high school yearbooks, the recorder I played in fourth grade, relics from my confirmation at St. Mary Magdalene, congratulatory cards bearing the signatures and Xs and Os of my long-departed grandparents, a blue box with two crystal rosaries, and many more things. Most papers went out. Objects tended to stay. Like a necklace with a small gold heart that I’ve had since I was 11.

Another box seemed to be the receptacle of my life from high school to college and maybe my early 20s. More yearbooks, copies of scripts from plays I was in, birthday and graduation cards, my high school boyfriend’s bow tie from prom (mauve was all the rage in 1986), and of course, diploma, mortar board, and tassel. It’s an odd collection of things, but the same feelings bubble up again. Relief. Sadness. A mild sense of loss. Anticipation of what’s next.

Packed in boxes with no rhyme or reason are my journals. I wrote daily for hours at a time for several years. I finally stacked them in chronological order and put them all in one place. I hope that IF my kids ever read them (hopefully long after I’m gone) they will remember that I was human before I was their mom.

I took a few minutes to flip through the journals. The first one dated from 1995 into 1996. I started it after I lost my friend Eric to non-Hodgkins lymphoma…which was just a few days after I’d gotten married. He was an artist, a photographer, a smart and creative man who liked artichokes on his pizza.I was a pall bearer.

In the same journal, I read entries about becoming a mother. 24-hours of labor to deliver an 11 pound, 7 ounce daughter. Eight weeks to recover. I wrote about the first time she reached for me as if she wanted me to pick her up, but instead she cupped my face in her hands, like I would do to her. And then there was the time she toddled over to me and opened my arms so she could flop onto my torso and I could give her a hug. She is a senior in high school this year.

Flipping through at least 5 other journals, I noticed recurring themes. My weight. Money. Loneliness. Creative impasses. I was constantly trying to find ways to drop ten, twenty, or thirty pounds. I kept setting writing goals and never achieving them. I kept trying to find ways to make more money or to save better. There was a lot of “if/then” thinking. If I drop 15 pounds, then I will be happy. If I just follow my measurements instead of the scale, then it won’t mess with my head so much. If I can finish this draft of the novel I’m working on, I can start pitching it to publishers next year. I could be published by the time I’m 40. I need to get my daughter ballet lessons to be a good mother.

I also found the journal entry that I can say is probably the exact day I realized my marriage was past the point of repair. It was about three years before it actually ended.

Overlapping and intertwining with that was the realization that God was not far away. That with all of my screwed-up-ness, He still wanted me in His Army of the Unqualified. I knew He was calling me. And I was scared. I spent a lot of time in denial. Running in the opposite direction. I kept thinking about things and people I’d have to give up, changes I’d have to make to be a “good soldier”. Sacrifices.

In another box was a paper bag. Inside the bag were notes and letters sent to me while I was serving on the team for the Women’s Emmaus Walk #76. I served in the midst of the calling and the disintegration, trying to take myself out of the spiritual equation and remind myself that I was there to shepherd the pilgrims. It wasn’t for me, it was for them. I pulled out one of the notes from my table leader Misty. She acknowledged our table’s unique circumstances and challenges, but encouraged me to keep praying and keep listening.

Then she wrote, “God has put it on my heart to share one word with you: courage.”

I took the note out of the bag and put it on my dresser where I can see it, along with a Letter from God read to the team at the beginning of the walk. We are identified by the word or phrase that we felt best described our relationship with God.

“One is stubborn, but her uncompromising and headstrong nature is how she stands and lives for Me in this fallen world.”

Change is constant. There are more forms of brokenness in this world than we realize. I am broken. And repaired. I am tired. And uplifted. I am defeated. And hopeful. I am afraid. And courageous.

I’ve shredded the papers that were pointless. Eliminated the stuff that was superfluous. Before I repackaged the memories and put them back in the boxes, I surveyed everything laid out on the bed, the floor, and every available surface and I realized something.

I have changed and I will keep changing. I survived the things I thought would crush me. I remember and laugh again at the moments that made me laugh. I miss the ones who are gone.This is the Me I can’t begin to explain to my daughters in just a few sentences.

I have lived.

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I think I’ve become a Parent

the wings-become-windows butterfly.

Image by e³°°° via Flickr

My oldest daughter is 14. She will be entering high school this fall. I’ve weathered many frightening things where my kids are concerned but this about takes the cake.  Irony, doing what it does best, points out this occurs about two weeks after my 25th high school reunion.

Yep, I cried when she started kindergarten. I fretted when she had her adenoids removed and ear tubes put in. I white-knuckled it through swimming lessons. I cried again when I just could not communicate with her, unsure that I was being heard or that I was listening correctly.

She grew fast. During that final window of opportunity when I still could have picked her up and carried her, I was pregnant with her sister and I couldn’t. And now the only picking up I do is from school and from youth group on Sundays. Well, and the wet towels off the bedroom floor…

…and the pieces of broken heart when she can’t understand why people make fun of her or go from being her best friends one day and ignoring her the next.

Middle school isn’t school. It’s a proving ground. Somewhere amid the cliques and the bullying and the hormones, the kids have to learn math and science and emerge with their self-esteem intact.

My own middle school experiences sometimes came back in horrific living color, and I’d get angry.  Every girl who had ever picked on me because I wore glasses and didn’t have the latest clothes, and every boy who ever ignored me or thought I was fat I could see in the students in my daughter’s school (and in their parents too). The faces were different. The names were different. The weapons were the same. Words and whispers. Pointing and eye rolling and giggling.

In spite of all this, she remained the same kind, deep-thinking soul she’s always been. She’s quiet, but hears everything. Since preschool, she’s been the peacemaker – breaking up fights and arguments, not causing them, even when she really wanted to punch someone in the mouth. She doesn’t see people by the color of their skins, or the jeans they wear. She is quick to say hello to the new kids and offer friendship. She is saddened by injustice and kids her age starving or worrying about bombs going off in their front yards. She looks forward to mission trips and helping in small ways wherever she can. She doesn’t always observe “personal space” well, and doesn’t always let go of a topic when it’s been beaten into the ground, but she’s learning.

Last spring, I sat in the gym bleachers of one of the local high schools, waiting for the open house to start, wondering why none of the other parents looked as shell-shocked as I felt. Later I realized most of them already had children in high school; they’ve been there and done that. I gazed at the high ceilings, the scoreboard, the banners proclaiming district and state championships in almost every sport that could be played. My daughter doesn’t play sports.

The school’s professional caliber jazz band performed while we waited. My daughter played clarinet in middle school for three years, but she made it clear to me that there would be no band for her in high school. She chose choir instead.

I felt panicky sitting there. My little girl was going to get lost. She’s not ready for this.

I’m not ready for this.

But I have to be. What’s going to make the difference here is parental support. Listening. Talking. Communicating. Trying not to fight. Trying not to “fix” everything. Allowing her to make some mistakes. Insisting that homework be done. Preparing her for college. Giving her a different kind of life support. Not breathing for her, but encouraging her to do it on her own. Showing her the way, but not doing all the work.

Talk about a leap of faith. It’s a leap of faith for both of us. And she has great faith and many teachers, not just in the classroom and in the family, but in her church family too. They’ve set the example for me, giving her room to question and grow and become her own person.

During a recent mission trip, as a way of expressing friendship for two group members who were moving out of state, she sang a song for them.  I wish I’d been there. I heard it was lovely and moving for everyone. But then again, maybe if I’d been there, she wouldn’t have done it.

She is finding her voice. I need to give her space to do it. And I pray that a generous heart and kind spirit continue to count for something.