My Mom died recently, and my brother and sister and I are cleaning out her estate. This is by no means a small task, as my Mother saved EVERYTHING! All of our elementary school report cards, 4-H Awards programs, class play programs, thousands of photos (mostly unidentified), post cards from all of our vacations (including places we re-visited!), ticket stubs from movies and football games and banquets, our old baby shoes, broken toys, recipes clipped from magazines and old boxes, letters we sent from college, and letters sent to her when she was in high school. She even saved such things that her own mother and grandmother had saved! Souvenirs and memories, all tucked away or piled up throughout her house.
My mom was what is known as a “hoarder.” She was pathological in her collecting bits and pieces of everything that went on all around her. She had clothing she had never worn. She had Christmas gifts she had opened and put back in their wrapping, but never enjoyed. She had books she had never read, DVDs she had never watched, and pots and pans she had never used. She had stacks and bags and boxes of memories she always meant to sort through– someday.
As she grew older, she sometimes would lament that we, as her children, would be burdened with the job of sorting through all her “stuff.” Even so, she wouldn’t let us touch any of it until the last months of her life, when it was obvious that she would never be able to do it herself. And we weren’t to throw anything out– only make an attempt to organize it all!
Of course, now we are throwing out the majority of what she kept. Much of it was damaged by being stacked and stored in the haphazard way it was. Some was damaged by a leaky roof, or mice. Many of the things that are damaged were once useful, and might have been useful yet if they had not been hoarded and held back. Blankets and towels that might have been passed on were left to be chewed up or rotted. Books and photos are warped or stained.
I loved Mom, and she was a great woman of God– a prayer warrior and evangelist. But she was human. In this part of her life, she missed some great opportunities to bless others with the resources she had. She even missed the opportunity to enjoy many of the things she obsessively stored for “someday.” Moreover, she saved many things that weren’t useful. Old boxes and jars of spoiled food, old bills and advertisements, expired credit cards and driver’s licenses.
I have been reminded of many things as I’ve helped go through Mom’s “things.” There are many wonderful memories that still can be found in all of her souvenirs. I found an old storybook– one of my favorites–about a Mama Bear and her naughty, curious little cub. “Why do you love me?,” the cub asks after getting into trouble yet again. “Because you’re my little bear,” she answers as she cleans the wounds and lovingly carries her cub home. Love transcends mischief. It transcends things like lost opportunities and hoarding tendencies, and the frustrations of life.
But sometimes we hang on to things, not out of love, but out of pain or desperation. Mom was a child of the Great Depression. Her family had to move a lot when she was younger. She was forced to give away toys and clothes she wanted to keep; forced to leave old friends and make new ones; forced to make things “last” when new things couldn’t be had. She spent many years having to be frugal and careful to make small memories last a lifetime. She became obsessed with collecting “souvenirs” of even the smallest events, even tragic ones, and holding on to what was “good enough,” even if something better was offered.
Many of Mom’s “souvenirs” have become baggage for those of us who follow. And many of our “souvenirs” will be baggage for those who follow us. Some of our scars will be passed down to our children. Some of our hopes and dreams will be unrealized–unopened and unused gifts that “might have been.” Others objects and experiences will be pleasant reminders of the love that lasts beyond our own lives and limitations. But objects, in themselves, cannot take the place of the actual experiences of joy, love, and peace they are meant to represent.
God wants us to hold fast to certain things. Truth. Hope. Love. Faith. But He calls us to let go of other things. Bitterness, resentment, anger, self-pity. I know that in my final days, I will probably find that I am still carrying some baggage. But I hope that I will find more souvenirs– good memories of a life enjoyed, goals accomplished, and relationships that have stood the test of time. Mom had those in abundance. But some were hidden among the baggage–treasured memories of those who loved her, and those whom she loved, surrounded by the baggage of heartache and longing. I pray that those who follow me won’t have to search among the ruins to find my souvenirs, or hunt through piles of souvenirs to find my treasures.