The boxes had been stacked so long in the basement that the sides were sinking into one another. It was my deceased husband's library of piano music and entire collection of office of files. They had been stored there for 14 years.
Often I had made concerted efforts to sort and throw and give away, but had never made a dent in the volume. Now I was moving into a condo, and the boxes could no longer be accommodated physically or mentally.
This move grew out of inspiration. The direction I had gotten was a Bible verse from Paul's letters: "Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing" (I Thess. 4:11, 12).
I told the children that the best thing they could do in packing up was to be thorough in consolidating their own things, and that I would be diligent with mine. The direction in tending to my husband's things seemed less clear, but I knew what "studying to be quiet" would require. It meant that when I was tempted to feel overwhelmed about anything, I would humbly and willingly turn to God. This was a time to affirm that God had a complete and perfect plan for every detail involved with the move. God's unfoldment of our lives is beautiful and gracious.
I awoke one morning knowing that this was the day to confront the boxes. Instead of dread, I felt God's love holding me as I went down the basement stairs. I found myself sitting on the bottom step and reaching for a scrapbook that was on top of a pile. It was a book of clippings giving an overview of my husband's career as a musician, professor, and mentor. In the back was some of my own writing. It was the prayer notes I had made on those first few days after his passing.
I remember crying bitter tears on my brother's shoulder, angry not only for our family's loss, but for the generations of college students who would miss out on my husband's talent and example of integrity. My brother was firm with me, and his words were written in my notes: "Don't let a longing for what could have been overshadow your appreciation for what he did accomplish." I'm sure that was a comfort at the time, but this day in the basement it felt like marching orders.
I needed to honor the completeness of my husband's work. No matter how untimely his death, the hundreds of students who had been blessed by his teaching (including our children and me) were all evidence of the fulfillment of his life purpose. The students had made it clear they would never forget what they had been given through his vision, patience, and gentle disposition.
My older son happened to come down the stairs and asked if he could take a break from the packing to make an overnight trip back to the town where we had lived. I found myself asking without forethought, "Would you be willing to take the music library with you?" It would be a donation to the college. This obvious solution had eluded me, and within a half an hour those boxes were loaded in the car. I was startled when two hours later, 80 percent of his office files were sorted and disposed of.
What was different this time was that I was no longer looking at the papers as if they were evidence of a thwarted life. On that basis I would keep looking for reasons to keep them. If the papers were evidence of a completed life, then I could appreciate their value for the time he used them and now let them go. Had I been weirdly trying to keep his work alive in ways that would never be useful?
The freedom that resulted from that emptied basement has been significant. There's an adage that says worrying about the future is planning in advance to be ungrateful. Ruminating about the past is refusing to admit that the good you had was enough to satisfy your heart. Being grateful for the good of the past means we can move on with expectancy of our bright future. To whatever degree the regrets are instructive, it is the continuity of God's goodness that assures progress.
There's another verse from one of Paul's letters: "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life" (II Cor. 5:4). To me that means that what makes life feel burdensome is that we tend to keep on our old coats of the past instead of taking them off so the new coat will fit well.
God's unfolding of good is enough to satisfy our hearts. May we be humble enough to acknowledge this and partake of its freedom.
When outgrowing the old,
you should not fear
to put on the new.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)