When I was a college student with budget issues, I was always looking for a more reasonable lease. Often I would sign a nine-month contract and later sublease for the summer months. The result was frequent changes of address.
Back then, moving was not that stressful for me. I owned no furniture and had few possessions. For this reason, it would only take a friend with a car to get me and my belongings to the new apartment.
How things change as we age. My husband and I recently moved from Wisconsin to Tennessee. Gerry has lived in other states, but I spent my entire life living in Wisconsin. While it is a delight to be near our daughter, and I am confident we made the correct decision, the move was stressful nonetheless.
We left a house we lived in for 30 years, the only place we called home together. All it took is a glance at virtually any spot inside or outside the house to bring back memories. If I were back there today, I could show you where our daughter spoke her first word and where she was standing when she took her first step. The large tree in front, the tree that is about to be removed as a victim of the ash borer, is the tree my Mom and I sat under when she told me how thrilled she was that I would know the joy of being a mother. Her words that day revealed how much she loved each of her children.
In addition to the memories, this move has been overwhelming because of the abundance of possessions we have. For thirty years we have been buying each other Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, and presents for various occasions. We also kept the gifts others have offered us, as well as many objects we purchased thinking they would be useful but are now packed away.
Some of the hardest objects to part with belonged to our parents. Looking at them transports me in time. These belongings, along with all of our memories in the house we just moved from, remind me how quickly my life is passing.
My parents lived in one house for fifty years. Mom died in 2006, and my dad joined her in 2013. With five decades in one house, you can imagine all they left behind. Dad often commented that if all of their belongings did not get sorted out before he died, he would leave us with a mess.
He was right. In the end, sorting through everything was an enormous task. As a result, I determined to downsize and not leave our daughter with so much to take care of one day. My parents left four children behind who could work on this long, emotional process together, My daughter is an only child. She has no siblings with which to share this responsibility.
Our recent move has shown me just how completely I have failed in this determination. That has been good, though. Seeing all of these boxes cluttering our lovely new house has given me new motivation.
In one box of my parents’ things, I found what I thought was a holy water font. It was relatively large, with a lovely image of Mary. As I picked it up, I realized it was actually a nightlight. It looks beautiful on our wall, with the softly glowing image of Mary reminding me of one who loved God in complete obedience. I can only strive to be like her. If I could only keep one object from my parents’ house, that light would be it. To look at it moves me to prayer.
When I see the myriad of boxes we brought from our Wisconsin home, I wonder how many of them I will find to contain objects that move me closer to God. I suspect most of them will not.
In the early days of packing, we gave away several items. As I debated keeping some objects because of their memories, I would often hear a voice in my head saying, “Let somebody use it.” Those words are a reminder with items I am tempted to keep, even if they will never be used. How does it serve God to keep belongings in a box?
Moving to a new place with the start of Advent, to an area of the country with less winter, I have been thinking about the liturgical seasons. I love that the Church celebrates through seasons. It mimics nature and the seasons of our lives. It is another way to see God in everything.
As the Archdiocese of Boston puts it:
In a similar way, the liturgical calendar helps us to remember the life of Jesus in a meaningful way. Jesus entered our world in time and space, and the liturgical calendar of the Church is an attempt to express and participate in the fullness of Jesus’ experience on earth. The purpose of the Liturgical Year Calendar is not to mark the passage of time, but to celebrate and understand more fully the entire mystery of Jesus Christ, from his incarnation and birth until his ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of his return in glory. During the course of a year, the Paschal mystery—the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus—is viewed from different angles, in different lights.
Then there is Scripture. Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NABRE) tells us:
There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
It seems to be my time to move to another state. Given this season in my life, I especially noted the last half of verse 6:
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
I have spent my entire life keeping; this would seem to be my season to cast away.
Advent is a great season to cast away. I look at all these boxes and wonder, is my soul as filled with unnecessary items as these boxes are? While I weed out the clutter we brought with us, it is time also to weed out the clutter in my soul.
Looking at each belonging, I can question, do I serve God better by keeping it or by giving it away? Some items will be neutral, of course, but with others, the answer will be more apparent. As I give away possessions and make room in my home, I hope to also make room in my soul for things of God.
In moving to another state, I have been constantly reminded how quickly life passes. It starts with the house in Wisconsin. When we moved there, my husband was a young Army major; now he is a retired colonel. Several members of our families who helped us with the move are no longer on this earth. I mentioned earlier that I could show you in that house where our daughter spoke her first word and took her first step; that daughter is now 26 years old. She used to follow us around the house. Now we are following her to another state.
Another reminder of the past is the belongings in these boxes that need unpacking. I still have my wedding gown, for example, though I fear I will never fit in it again. We have tons of boxes of photo memories because nothing was digital in the early days of our marriage.
The items that most speak to this time of my life, though, are those I took from my parents’ home. A glance at them can bring me back to a childhood that does not seem all that long ago. It was a time when my parents were still alive, but also a time when people who are now essential to me, like my husband, were not yet in my life. My daughter, who I cannot imagine life without, did not even exist.
Looking back over the years during this Advent season, I am beginning to question how well I served God. There are times it is clear I was where God wanted me. I have written about the final days of my mom, my dad, and my mother-in-law. I am confident that caring for them showed God my love for Him.
This period was only a small portion of my life, though. I am not sure how well I have served God during the majority of it. I cannot change the past, but I can learn from it and resolve to do better.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent was taken from Luke. It talked about signs of the second coming of Christ. Whether or not His return to earth is imminent, moving to Tennessee has in so many ways reminded me that, in the words of my daughter: “Judgment is fast approaching for all of us.”
Advent, then, is not just a reminder that God humbled Himself to come to us in the form of man and that one day He will again appear on this earth; it is also a reminder that each one of us needs to prepare for our personal meeting with Jesus at the end of our lives. I have a unique opportunity this Advent. The countless boxes in our house are my constant reminder of a soul that needs to be decluttered.
This Advent, as I am sorting through boxes, I am reminded to sort what comes between God and me. I pray for a less cluttered soul and a heart that desires what God desires of me. In my time to keep and time to cast away, this Advent (and beyond) I hope to I keep what is of God and cast away everything else.
At the end of this Advent season, may we all find ourselves better prepared for Jesus.