when it’s time to burn the past
There is a bittersweet beauty in burning the past.
Medical bills, credit card statements, unemployment reports, brochures from recovery centers, duplicate checks, collections files . . . stuff we’ve carried for seven years and more and can finally let go.
Neither of us has wanted to do this.
We stuffed non-essentials-that-could-be-important into a few boxes and a four drawer fling cabinet seven years ago and shut it away in storage, in a garage, and in a closet under the stairs.
Now we sift. Through lesson plans — his and mine. Through game plans — his from coaching days. I am surprised to feel no grief over reminders of the good things we once had and lost. We toss papers ruthlessly into the fire.
Files of pay stubs, of copies of forms filled out every three months to keep public assistance, pay stubs from work, handwritten budgets.
We keep a few things . . . Notes and bills helpful to see again as I write. Behavior contracts — evidence of my desperation to get a grip on a life spinning wildly out of control. Our food benefits card — witness to the year we stayed home because we didn’t have gas but at least we had food to eat.
Seven years of getting back up slowly after losing job, home, ministry all on one dreary November afternoon.
* * * * *
The long, steady ascent from the abyss began with decisions to stay.
To stayed married. To stay together. To stay in a small town where everyone connects to everyone eventually . . .
I admire his tenacity. Day after day, earning trust, respect and confidence. I hate having to prove myself again and again; I would have given up a long time ago. But he’s been at it for seven years.
Years of clocking in and marking down every hour, every minute, every place.
Years of increasing responsibility.
Years of keeping every. single. receipt.
Years of weekly meetings with men to encourage each other to keep going.
Years of speaking truth over and over.
Years of paying debts.
Years of taking one day at a time.
* * * * *
Every seven years, a nation celebrated in make-shift dwellings, to remember deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Remember how I led you when you could not see?
Remember how I fed you when you could not feed yourself?
Remember how I sheltered you when you did not have a home?
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts . . . because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)
Every seven years, a new start: the Season of Our Joy.
* * * * *
I don’t readily remember the exact date. I have to look through a journal to find it.
I checked this week, when the weather suddenly turned cold and I felt the time coming.
And I feel the beauty of providence.
This week, we are purging the past, preparing to move from our 18th temporary home into a home of our own.
This week, our church provides meals for a local ministry that gives people a new start. And it turns out we are making dinner together tonight for homeless men exactly seven years from the day we became homeless ourselves.
On this day, we were set free from fifteen years of slavery to addiction and fear. Set free into uncertainty, and wandering and complete dependence on God.
* * * * *
Dear friend, sometimes you are just ready to sort and burn the burdens of the past.
To let go of the piles of guilt you’ve been carrying with you in boxes because you couldn’t bear to look too closely at the done and the undone.
To sift through it all and pull out the things that remind you of how bad it was then and keep a few to remind you how grateful you are for now.
People like to say you need to forget the past to move forward. But I don’t think that’s true.
It’s good to remember what you were rescued from so that you never return to slavery. It’s good to remember who cared for you when you couldn’t take care of yourself. And it’s good to remember the day you lost it all and commemorate it as a new beginning.
Here’s to the Season of Our Joy,