About a week ago, I discovered a rubbermaid filled with photo albums, loose photos, letters, cards and memorabilia long forgotten in the back of a closet. Since I needed some earlier photos of nieces and nephews for a scrapbook my sister and I are preparing for them, this was a very timely discovery. I spent one evening methodically going through the contents trying to get a sense of how I might further organize, categorize or scrapbook the treasures and memories I found there.
Out of hundreds of photos, I only tossed a few in the trash can standing by to receive anything that no longer held meaning or value in our family. I realized how difficult it was for me to "let go of" photos, even those picturing my children's former sweethearts and those which had no visible name, date or way of determining the identity of the person in the photo. I really had to stretch myself to make choices to toss anything that seemed to connect in any way to myself and my children. Once when learning more about the art of scrapbooking, I was instructed to get rid of any photos that did not represent the subject matter well. Were they blurry and unclear, eyes closed, or the background too filled with distraction to make the photo acceptable? This sounds correct in a creative sense but sometimes my heart would not allow me to "just let go."
I'm sure I'll find myself taking a second journey through this large stash of memorabilia. In fact, it was another night before I got the courage to look at a letter penned to me by my mother forty one years ago this September. It was my first year of college and my first year away from home. The memories associated with my leaving were negative and therefore my fears of looking inside this envelope were still resident in my heart. On the day of my departure, my father, who had not been a front of the line supporter of my going away to school, drove me up the mountain where he deposited me in a dorm filled with strangers. My mom remained at home where I'm quite sure tears were shed as she awaited my dad's return home that night. I'd been a real bear to get along with that day, which I can attribute to my nerves and real fears about leaving home. I'd said some really cutting things to my mother and convinced myself my father wouldn't cry and the drop off would go much more smoothly. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Watching my father drive away with tears in his eyes was far more difficult for me as it was so unexpected. My desire to avoid my own emotional breakdown backfired as I came face to face with my father's emotions for perhaps one of the first times in life. My eighteen year old brain was not capable of understanding the deep pain a parent feels when cutting the apron strings and watching the child they've poured their lives into step into a new season of life. Holding the envelope and staring at my mother's beautiful handwriting addressed to White Hall, ASU, Boone, N.C., I still felt twinges of guilt for the scenario that played out that day.
Mom was ironing clothes as I packed and I grumbling and making it clear I wanted my daddy to take me up the mountain. I saw the hurt in her eyes and yet I continued to plead my case, believing this would help me escape the inevitable painful separation about to happen in my life. As I slipped the letter from the softened from age envelope, I still felt a reluctance to read the letter postmarked Pray for Peace. It was a Wednesday afternoon and addressed, Hi Honey. The entire first page only words of encouragement about my arrival and my father's trip back home down the mountain. It wasn't until the second page, the tears began to flow as I read the following words, absolving my guilty conscience of a sharp tongue so many years ago."Robin, there are so many things that I wanted to say to you before you left but couldn't without crying, but I did want to tell you how proud I am of you....It's awfully hard to turn loose after 18 years but I know we must. It's like when you were learning to ride a bike, you would say; 'Get me started and then let me go.' Well, that's what Daddy and I have tried to do, but don't forget that you are 'our girl' and just as near as a telephone call. And more importantly, remember that God is only a prayer away. Forgive us for being so grumpy those last few weeks but I suppose everyone was trying to prepare themselves for your leaving. Even your sister was afraid to show her true feelings."
"Letting go," is a term we toss around quite frequently in the modern world. "Finding closure" is another. For most of us, forgiving ourselves is one of the last steps of the forgiveness journey. Buried deep in our hearts are memories of mistakes and attitudes and behaviors that were unacceptable. Our thoughts about certain incidents become blurry and unclear as time passes. Forgiving ourselves sometimes involves getting a clearer picture of all the circumstances and where everyone else is positioned as things played out in our lives.
Who would think that my inability to "let go of" photos, letters and cards would lead me to a life lesson forty one years later? Sometimes God gives us a little push. He can use something as simple as a heartfelt note with a six cent stamp tucked away for years to open our eyes to see things from a new perspective. There is a bit of fear and trembling in opening our eyes to wounds and broken areas in our lives. It seems much easier to keep things tucked away in our hearts than to utter the words, "Get me started God and help me let go!"
Like a loving parent who recognizes how hard it is to turn loose, He reminds us He is only a prayer away. I believe He wants to steady the handle bars and give us that gentle push. It is up to us to let go of all that is within us that doesn't represent the forgiveness He has promised us. Then, we will find ourselves skimming down the hill of unforgiveness with a freedom and abandon like I once felt as a child on a bike descending the hill that had loomed before me. He will remove the fear of what once seemed impossible.
As I tuck the letter back into the yellowed envelope, I recognize unforgiveness, even unwillingness to forgive ourselves, can leave us with a picture of ourselves that is not in keeping with the way our loving Father sees us. Just like the photographs of unrecognizable subjects I tossed into the trash, I want Him to remove everything that mars His picture of who I am and hear Him say, "I'm so proud of you."
May He send it postmarked Special Delivery... as far as the East is from the West.