catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 25 :: 2009.12.25 — 2010.01.07


To throw away or to keep

The furnace room in the basement of my parents’ home is so crowded there’s barely room to walk. My mother has been “suggesting” that I go through my things and throw away anything I don’t need or want — a reasonable request, and something that’s been on my mind for the last few years anyway. I frequently complain about the accumulation of “stuff” and how I don’t want to have a lot of material things. But the furnace room is visible evidence of my hypocrisy: “stuff” from the time I was a preteen, if not younger, fills box upon box. I have to share the blame at least a bit (love you, Mom) by acknowledging that I was taught to keep precious items, as one day I’ll be old and alone and these will be all I have! Well, there’s enough truth to that, but apartments don’t come with attics, and since I hope to move out soon, there’s a practical reality to reckon with.

I made it my fall task to have the furnace room cleaned up by Christmas. Due to low energy levels (yes, there’s a tiny bit of an excuse hiding in there somewhere), I’ve just started on the task today. Truth is, now that I’ve started, I’m beginning to realize why I avoided it for all this time. Going through these boxes is like revisiting all the corners and crevices of my soul. These boxes are filled with pieces of ME: high school yearbooks and essays, photographs I’d forgotten even existed, letters from old friends and more. Those who know me know that my life has taken a few big twists and turns, and has seen more than its share of highs and lows. Amid many happy memories, a great sadness (to borrow a term from one of my favorite books, The Shack) lurks in these boxes. As I sift through the pages of the past, it comes over me with an intensity that surprises me. I thought I’d left all this behind. I thought I was a new creation in Christ. But the furnace room is still full.

What began as a goal to go through one box at a time has turned into several boxes, now sprawled out in an even greater mess, blocking the hallway as well. I feel compelled to continue sifting, with a fascination that I’m not sure I like. I’m slowed to a stalemate and find myself absorbed and riveted with the re-experience of old thoughts, feelings and longings — so much so that I completely missed an appointment this afternoon. And I haven’t even gotten to the thousands of pages of old journal writings that detail the most intimate experiences of my inner and outer life. In each page, each photo, each memento, lies a decision: throw away or keep? The sheer number of decisions before me is overwhelming and I don’t have the answer to most of them.

Part of me wants to throw everything away, or just about everything. Keep the items that make me smile and bring back a happy memory. Keep the yearbooks, diplomas and all things neutral that document important milestones. Get rid of everything else. Be done with it and focus on the good things God is doing in my life now. It is for freedom that I have been set free. Whatever is true, right, pure, praiseworthy….think about these things. I have stared deep into the face of darkness, the knowledge of good and evil, and I know it well. No one but Jesus could know it and not be altered for the worse by it. Time to turn my face in another direction, to change my mind — the real meaning of the word “repent.” Forget the former things and do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

But part of me holds back, wondering if I will regret my decision, anticipating a sense of overwhelming loss. These are the pieces of ME — broken, scattered pieces that I have tried to put together in various ways, only to not recognize the end result. It’s probably foolish and arrogant, but for the longest time I have felt compelled to write the story of my life, not to be seen by others so much as to record in a permanent place the experiences that I’ve had in the hopes that it might help somebody else with their own struggles. This desire was very strong when I was actively rejecting belief in God, which I suppose makes sense considering I believed that this life was all I had and there was nothing after. If I could make a difference in the life of one person, then my life would have purpose. It wouldn’t have been for nothing. I would matter.

And so I have held onto these tangible pieces of memory and experience in the hopes of uniting them into a coherent story. By writing my story, the light would shine in and the great sadness would be lifted. Writing my story would be my salvation; it would come from within me. But that was not my experience, salvation did not come that way. Salvation came with the birth of a small helpless baby, and no I’m not talking about Jesus (although that would also be true in a deeper sense). No, her name was Callie Maryjane and she propelled me from a self-centred, self-pitying, stuck-in-the-past little girl into rebirth as a mother. I had asked God for someone to love me; instead he gave me someone to love. I wanted to be rescued, but he gave me a responsibility. He gave me hope and a future. This I could not do for myself. I did not write my story; I gave him the pen finally believing that he could do a better job. Doesn’t the story end there?

But my furnace room is still full and my mother is still bugging me about it! Would throwing these things away be a denial of where I’ve come from, a stuffing down of the reality of pain and suffering? Or is it a losing-my-life-to-gain-it kind of thing? I don’t want to be an “inright outright upright downright happy all the time” follower of Christ (as the Sunday school song goes). The Bible itself records all the dirty details of Israel’s history and seems to spare very little. There is value in a kind of fearful yet holy remembering. But neither do I want to give the demons a closet to store their sadness and regret. I simply don’t have an extra one to spare! It is for freedom that I’ve been set free, and it seems to me that both throwing away and keeping could be barriers to freedom.

I suppose one way to think outside the box (ha, ha) is to remain focused on the present and stick to practicalities. How many boxes do I have room to keep? Would I want someone else going through these things if, say, something should “happen” to me? (Morbid, yes, but practical — I think about these things now that I have a daughter.) What things are likely to prove useful or necessary for the future? And what mementos would I like to have when I’m old and gray and incurably lonely? Then again, maybe learning to be more outward focused now will mean I don’t end up in that situation in the future. So I will attempt to go through each box, one at a (limited) time, neither taking too many shortcuts nor lingering too long in any each one. Cast out the bad, keep what is good, with a few carefully chosen reminders of where I’ve been to keep me humble, real and open-minded in my connections with others. A holy purge, a visible and practical way of living into my re-birth. Yes?

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