Spring Cleaning

Coffee Talk

Renae Brumbaugh Green

Have you ever noticed it’s much, much easier to get rid of somebody else’s old junk than it is your own? No? Well, you are superior to me in every way.

I recently helped my mom clean out her storage building. Which means, I recently helped my mom get rid of a pile of thirty-year-old tax returns, a Mt. Everest-sized heap of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, a couple of perfectly-good-but-incomplete showerhead kits that she bought for one part and one part only, a box of Fisher-Price toddler toys (her youngest grandchild is now fifteen,) a single silver high-heeled shoe she wore to my brother’s wedding, and a single pink ballet slipper which belonged to elementary-school-age me. It would seem we’re a family of peg-legs.

We also found an entire box full of my older brother’s kindergarten and first grade schoolwork. Just between you and me, don’t hire him to be your accountant. Apparently he thinks 3+2=4, and 6-3=2. I always thought I was the smart one in the family. Now my suspicions are confirmed. I was ready to toss his crumbling grade-school treasures, but Mom shouted “No! I want to keep those.”

He always was her favorite.

But I did come upon four small packets of pearls: my high-school English folders. Yes-sirree, they were all there. High school research papers. In-class essays. Creative writing assignments. Poems. Prose. Feeble attempts at humor. It was brilliance in its rawest form.

Or, it was above-average, anyway. And I have to brag . . . I had excellent handwriting.

I flipped through fifteen-year-old Renae’s writing and decided the competency of each teacher based on the grade I was given. B-? She never liked me. A? I was her favorite student. B+? Meh. She was okay.

I found one essay, written on The Screwtape Letters, in which I misspelled Satan as Satin. Twelve times. It was the only word I misspelled in the entire essay, but Mrs. N. counted it wrong every. Single. Time. I’m still paying for therapy for that one. But I have to say, I now know the difference between Lucifer and a soft, slippery fabric.

I offered to read my freshman research paper on Modern Christian Literature out loud to my family, knowing they’d lean forward in excitement with every word. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hear about the life of C. S. Lewis or the literary contributions of James Clavell and J. R. R. Tolkien?

They groaned and begged me not to. What can I say? There’s no accounting for taste.

It was fun, and really dusty, and did I say fun?—to relive our history. But I have to admit, it felt even better to haul off twenty-something trash bags full of stuff we haven’t thought about in years, and certainly won’t miss now that it’s gone. And it’s not my mother’s fault we still had it, either! Most of that was stuff I begged her to keep, just in case we needed/wanted/had to have it someday. After yesterday, I’m over it. Just looking at that old metal building with neat rows of pristine Christmas decorations, handy tools and precious heirlooms, I’m cured of all my hoarder tendencies.

Okay, most of them.

I don’t know why I like to hang on to the past, both literally and figuratively. All it does is gather dust, attract small disease-carrying rodents, and rot. It’s so much better to sort through our memories and hold onto only those things that make our lives richer and stronger and more complete. The rest should be promptly placed in the trash bin and hauled off to the dumpster.

I don’t want my own storage building—my mind—to become a collection place for trash. But removing the rubble from my memories requires even more work than cleaning out Mom’s boxes. Purging the negative, hurtful files from my heart takes a strong will, and consistency, and Arnold-Schwarzenegger-strength of resolve. Unlike papers in the fire, our painful recollections come back again and again, like rats in the attic. But with a lot of prayer and steadfast tenacity, we can clean them out. It is possible.

Each time I remember something that makes me sad or angry, I take a deep breath and say, “God, help me forgive them,” or “Help me forget that.” And while unpleasant events will always remain somewhere in my mental file cabinet, I’ve found that over time, with determination, the pain attached to them disappears.

I’m pretty proud of the progress we made on Mom’s storage building yesterday. My goal is for my mind to be just as swept-clean of all the negatives, to be a neatly-organized treasure trove of uplifting history and wisdom. The rest of it can go to the burn pile.

Except that research paper on The Screwtape Letters. That might be worth some money someday.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” Phillipians 4:8.

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