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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