I’ve recently been connecting with people I haven’t visited in a while.  One friend from grade school, we’ll call her Pam, has been reading my blog and wanted to share her story.

She just returned from her brother’s funeral, made more painful by an estrangement  following their mother’s death.  Days after her mother’s funeral, their family was transferred by her husband’s work to Mesa.  In the stress of moving her own family so quickly, the task of sorting through her mother’s personal effects was delegated to her brother, Pete, and his wife, Sherry, who lived near her mother’s home.  Of importance was a letter and life book that their mother had created for each of them over the years but when her health had become such that she required constant care, the personal items had been moved aside for medical equipment and these precious things were now hidden somewhere in the house. Pete promised to mail them.  In the ensuing weeks as the tasks of getting into a new home, getting the kids in new schools, looking for a new job, unpacking and all the other chaos that goes with a move, Pam was too busy to ask if the items were found.  When she did recall that she hadn’t received them and contacted her brother, he told her he had given them to her the day she left.

“I was furious,” Pam recalls, “how dare he not send them and tell me such a story.”

As the months passed and Pete continued to insist  he had given her the items, her grief was overshadowed by the feeling her brother was deliberately hiding something from her.  Until then they had a fairly healthy brother and sister relationship but now it felt tainted by deceit.  

“It became harder for me to talk to him, and though he swore to me again and again that he had put these things directly into my hand when he and Sherry had come to say goodbye, I couldn’t recall anything like that.”

Sherry shared how hurt  Pete was by Pam’s rejection of him and how the once close-knit family continued to grow apart.  And, as when her mother had died not a year earlier, Pete’s heart attack happened as Pam and her family were in the process of moving .  

“I didn’t even want to go to the funeral.  I was curt with Sherry because this was such an inconvenient time.  I had taken a week off work to go through the boxes from storage, the things I hadn’t seen in months since we stayed in a small apartment while the house was being built.  As I was opening boxes I came to one that had the TV remote, something we’d been missing since leaving South Carolina.  I found the bills I had set aside to take care of that I could never find and the kids report cards that we had to call and have faxed to the new school since I couldn’t find them.  As I dug deeper into the box I found a manila envelope with my mother’s writing on it.  It said ‘For Pam’.  And my heart stopped.  How in the world did that get there?”

Inside the package she found both the missing letter and life book.  Pete had given it to her and she had put it in the box and forgotten about it. 

“I had an instant recall of when I had taken the package from Pete and stuffed it in the box with the remote and the current bills and such things that were to be the first box we opened when we got to Arizona.  Somehow, though, that box was sealed and put away with the storage boxes.  If I had only opened the box I would never have put us  through this pain.”

It was 2 a.m. in South Carolina but she phoned Sherry.

“I sobbed for my brother, for my mother, for Sherry and my nephews that I had pushed away.  Guilt washed over me in waves until I thought I could barely breathe.  And Sherry, gentle soul that she is, cried with me and told me Pete never stopped loving me, never stopped hoping that someday I would find the package.  It was too late for me to say I was wrong, to say I was sorry.   I can’t explain .  Somehow through the grief of losing mom and then the move that took us far from everyone, I couldn’t admit I was wrong to Pete.  If he was right and I had lost these treasures, well, then it would be my own fault, and I couldn’t admit that.  I was too stubborn about always being right.  Finding the package no longer held pleasure of getting these things from my mother.  Instead, it created tremendous pain for the way I had treated Pete.  God forgive me.”

How often in our lives we do this – put things in boxes and forget them only to have them resurface at some point and cause us more pain.  And why?  Sometimes it’s like what Pam said, she didn’t want to consider the possibility that she could be wrong.  Sometimes it’s because what we put in that box is too painful to look at, think about, because someone else caused us more hurt and suffering than we could handle.  Sometimes its the things we’ve done that we can’t face. 

Unresolved issues don’t belong in boxes. 

“After making my peace with Sherry and the boys, I had to make peace with myself.  I realized I had to stop my habit of blaming others.  I still can’t believe I couldn’t accept I had goofed up.  The clues, the missing remote and report cards, were there, but I didn’t want to see them. I could have gone to the storage unit and looked, and found these things while Pete was alive, but I didn’t.  God really worked on my heart though.  Nothing will ever be the same as it was, but I know I’m getting better and I’m not as quick cast blame.  And I value my family more than ever, especially my friendship with Sherry.  It’s closer than ever.”   

Do you have boxes?  Are you ready to be done with them?

Some are labeled guilt.  Some are labeled hurt. Some are labeled fear.  Some are labeled wrongs.  Some are labeled what if or what else.  Some are labeled I didn’t or I did.  Some are labeled I gave up or I gave in.  Some are labeled I won’t, or I can’t, or not now.  Some have multiple labels and the box contents are so jumbled that it seems impossible to sort through what’s there, what’s hidden, what’s buried. 

Start somewhere.  Go through one thing at a time, but really look at it.   Closed boxes can pile up, and become hazards, creating unstable walls that hinder and suffocate and collapse and even destroy.

For our own sakes, and the ones we love, we must examine things carefully and closely, even if that means getting professional help for them, so that we don’t make those choices again or the power they have to hurt us again is no longer viable.  By facing the stuff we are inclined to shove into boxes, we move toward change, a new perspective, even a new heart.  We see not just what we’d rather put in the box and put away, but we understand its roots and the impact it caused for ourselves and others, and this knowledge can be painful but freeing.  By rifling through the things we’d rather bury, we open the door to possibilities, the renewal that comes with making new, different, better, and right choices and changes so that those things never have to be repeated, never have to resurface to continue the repetitive cycle of hurt, pain, guilt, and suffering.   And when the boxes are emptied of the things that hurt us, there’s room for good, for joy, for healing,  for happiness.

Don’t have a box cutter?  I know a great one – Jesus.  He’ll not only open that box but will hold you up as you go through it and then shred every last thing that doesn’t belong as a part of your new life, so that it is gone, forever.  He’ll even guide you to find the things to replace that which you think you’ve lost.  Those boxes can then be burned; and Jesus promises to bring beauty from ashes.

          He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

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