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Shot Of The Day

Grandpa Tree

The God Miner's Daughter

I’m a pack rat. I keep stuff. Not everywhere. Mostly, in my office and art studio. I’ve read every book you can imagine on organization. They ease the pain of my clutter disorder but they rarely seem to touch the root that causes the disease. You know, the one that anchors me to the habit of keeping stuff. There must be a root at the base of it because I’m grounded to a habit that won’t seem to let me go any further than a tree moves from its original position. Sure, it sways and it bends and it loses some leaves, but it doesn’t move off its root!

I work on the symptoms for a while; but without a clear understanding of the cause, I eventually find myself buried once again in my palace of stuff. Receipts. Books that I had to have but can’t read until I have time. Notes from old classes. Cameron’s doodles. Reminders to do things that I buried in a pile and then forgot. Parts of a book I want to write one day. Photo discs with people and places I can’t quite place in time or perspective. Prints of a zillion emails with sentiment from friends, family and strangers. Birthday cards from the dentist. Journals with only 5 pages filled. You get the idea.

A few years ago before going on a mission trip, I felt an overwhelming need to purge my cluttered life. I took everything out of my office as if I were moving and only put back what I thought I really needed. I think God was preparing me for the shame I would feel as I walked beside people with nothing. Want to be humbled? Talk about your “stuff” problem with a man who owns only one pair of pants and has nothing to organize because, well, he has nothing… There are some things you simply cannot learn from reading a book.

Before my trip, I remember throwing bags of stuff away. I donated boxes more. I remember pausing at the door of my office and flipping off the lights before heading to the airport feeling so proud of myself! My space was appropriately bare for a “missionary.” Note to self — pride is probably not the best top-shelf emotion as you depart for a mission trip. Or perhaps, in a weird kind of way, it’s the ideal set up for the tilling the soil of your soul is about to undergo. Mostly, I remember returning, flipping on the lights and feeling horrified at the massive amount of stuff I felt compelled to keep. Oh yes, the Book of Experience is most definitely a permanent best seller.

My husband left for Cuba on Saturday. Perhaps they were sympathy pains, but a few weeks before he left, I felt the same urge to purge. I could barely move in my office again because I had accumulated so much stuff. It took me two plus weeks to go through every piece of paper, every book, every file, EVERYTHING and put back only what I really needed. I’m famous for doing these projects and quitting 10% shy of the finish line. That remaining little shrub of an unsorted pile becomes the root for the next clutter crises and on and on the cycle goes.

But then, Tuesday came. My husband had been gone for three days and I was sitting at my desk imagining him walking beside the man with one pair of pants trying to explain why his wife keeps stuff. Like a toddler throwing a tantrum when she’s forced to clean her room, I pouted as I dug through that last 10% slamming the garbage can every time I made a deposit. And to my utter amazement, I started to discover some real jewels that had been buried in the pile that never quite made it to sorting day. This was the last 10% from 6 years of clean outs. It was filled with things that really didn’t fit neatly in any organizational category. The other 90% fit in some logical class or genre: journals, books, files, office supplies, letters, magazines, memories from my son, husband, mom, sisters, friends… But the “dregs” – or the last 10% — looked like a mish mosh of paperclips, sticky notes, loose pieces of paper, business cards, receipts, gum wrappers and ATM slips.

Once it dawned on me that I was actually going to finish this time, I decided to slow down and sift through this last bit like one would sift for gold. I started to ask myself this question as I sorted — what treasure did I think I had when I chose to save this item? Why was it so important to keep this? I unfold a printed email from my friend Laura in 2007. No, that’s not a typo. It was the first email she ever sent me. I printed it because something inside me said: “you are going to want to remember this one day.” And boy was my gut right. She has become like a sister to me and now I can’t imagine my life without her. It was a piece of pure gold, not the dregs but the cream. And something in me knew it 5 years ago when I saved it from eternal deletion from the hard drive of my life.

Tattered and torn at the edge, I pull a copy of a book chapter my friend Stephanie sent years ago with a sticky note which read, “I wish I could write like this.” I read that chapter when she sent it and I couldn’t throw it away because it was a little piece of Stephanie’s heart. It mattered to her and she wanted it to matter to me. As long as I had it, I had a little piece of Stephanie at my fingertips. How did she know that many years later I would be on a college tour with my son and the featured author on campus that day would walk to the podium and begin talking about her favorite chapter in her favorite book. As soon as she started to talk, I knew. I knew it was her because it felt like a little nugget of gold was blinding me from the stage.

A note my son wrote me the day he made the finals in speech. A list my husband made of things he loves. The cloth menu from my parent’s wedding. Cards, letters, notes, prayers…. Pure gold.

When I came to the end of the pile, I started to see my roots in a whole new light. God says that a root anchored to an unhealthy thing can infect the whole organism. I was seeing, maybe for the very first time, that my roots were attaching to things that evidenced connection and meaning and relationship. The more I examined what I keep and why, the more I felt like a miner searching for the smallest fleck of gold in the pan of existence. When I find one, no matter how small, I pick it up and I delight in the fact that there is hope and connection and meaning in this forest we call life. I know I can’t keep every nugget, but my brand of clutter is partially a testimony to how many beautiful deposits have been made in the soil of my life and how much I value even the smallest one.

My freedom won’t come when I cut the root that keeps me tethered here. Indeed, I think my freedom will come when I realize that I don’t have to keep digging up the things I’m rooted to in order to convince myself, or others, that they are real. Collecting them doesn’t make them more real or prevent them from disappearing. Collecting them gives me some kind of false comfort that if I never find another fleck of gold, at least I have the ones I’ve saved. But the truth is, I’m going to be finding gold my entire life because God died for the things these flecks represent — connection, relationship and meaning. It’s everywhere. And there will always be more!

Posted: 6 June 2012