Boyfriend Bags

“What’s in all these black trash bags?” my husband asked.

We were spending the first Saturday of 2018 cleaning out the storage room in our basement, which, I’m sad to say, looked more like a dump with a skinny path winding through the debris.IMG_4276

I left the tub I was sorting through and peered into one of the bags.

Stuffed animals, photographs, cards, clothes, letters, jewelry…

“It’s a boyfriend bag,” I told him.

My husband looked around him. “All of them?”

“Yep, all of them.”

We’d witnessed the advent of the boyfriend bag when my daughter broke up with her first steady beau at the age of seventeen. After hours of a bawling meltdown, she marched past me, sniffling and muttering under her breath.

“Where are you going?” I asked her.

“To the garage.”

crying dollA few minutes later, she clomped back with a fifty-five gallon black trash bag, went into her bedroom, and slammed the door. From inside, I heard renewed wailing, more talking to herself, and a lot of banging. A half hour later, she emerged with a bulging trash bag, dragged it down the basement stairs, and hauled it into the storage room.

While she was in the basement, I peeked into her room.

Wow. Purged from any sign of boyfriend number one.

Throughout my daughter’s high school and college years, the same pattern occurred again and again: boyfriend breakup, abandoned bawling, toting of the trash bag into her room, the purge, and finally, lugging of the boyfriend bag to its final resting spot—our storage room.

While my husband watched, I stooped down and began digging through the bag, feeling a little funny about invading my daughter’s privacy. “Wow, she was really mad at this one,” I said as I lifted a handful of ripped photographs.

“Should we just throw the bags away?”

“Let me call her and ask.”

“I don’t want them,” my daughter said when I had her on the phone. “Throw them away.”IMG_4274

“But shouldn’t you look through them first?”

“No. Pitch them all.”

I hung up the phone, frowned at the bags, and made a mom decision.

“What are you doing?” my husband asked as I schlepped boyfriend bags out of the storage room and lined them by the couch.

“She needs to sort through these. Trust me.”

A few weeks later, when my daughter visited, I took her downstairs. “Hey, I want you to go through these boyfriend bags.”

“Mom, I said I don’t want them. That’s all in the past, and I’m really happy with Ken now.

“Just make sure there’s nothing you want and see what we can give to Salvation Army, okay?”

My daughter sighed. “Fine.”

I opened the first bag. “Let’s start with this one. It’s the hardest.”

She sat down on the floor and reached into the bag from boyfriend number one, her first love, who was killed in a motorcycle accident during college. From there, we went through the other bags, laughing at silly letters, talking, rolling our eyes at memories. During our perusal, she found a ring and a picture frame that she had accidentally thrown into a bag, and she put some cute stuffed animals and clothes into the donation pile.

And, while she went through those bags, I saw her close those chapters of her young life not only with acceptance, forgiveness, and the relinquishing of resentments, but also with the understanding that those segments were part of the woman she is now.

When she got up and nodded at me, at peace with her past, I closed the boyfriend bags. It was time to throw them away and look toward the future.

Most of us don’t have physical boyfriend bags in our storage room. But maybe we have a friend bag, family bag, even a God bag, stashed away in the depth of our souls. We twist tie that painful memory, along with resentment, anger, hurt, and unforgiveness. We never want to see that bag again, but yet, we don’t throw it away, either. Instead, we store it where it will lay molding and festering in a dark place

Until we go through that bag with God.

The Bible tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Our big God promises us that he will use the experiences in that painful bag for good. But first, we need to reopen any stashed-away bags, with Godblack trash bags alongside us. God wants to sort through them with us and use the good stuff to further his kingdom. He wants to help us face those unresolved issues of unforgiveness, hurt, and anger—to give them all to him, so that we can heal and move forward in our walk with him. Then, imbued with his peace, we will be confident that God has gleaned what we need from that bag to become stronger Christians and continue along his path.

Finally, we can put the twist tie on that boyfriend bag, thank our heavenly Father for his blessings and provision, and haul it to the trash.

We won’t need it anymore.

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Hello, Wall—Part III

IMG_4258In our drive-through, text-preferential, phone-gawking, multi-tasking world, we have forgotten how to listen. And one of my goals in 2018? To become a better listener, using the acronym EAR.

In my previous blogs, we covered the “E” and “A.”

  • “E” stands for enquire. After I listen to someone who is speaking, I will ask or comment about at least three things he said, and none of those enquiries start with “I.” This is not a time to focus on me.
  • “A” stands for attention. When someone is speaking, we need to give him our undivided focus. Not only does this means no eye darting, watch peeking, interjecting, or mind wandering, it also entails learning to be a good listener despite inevitable interruptions.

This week, we’ll look at the “R,” which stands for refrain.

Once again, we’ll usher in Amy, who has spent the last two blogs trying to tell me about EAR diagramthe bad day she had. Today, I put my new “E” and “A” listening skills into practice. While Amy is speaking, I pay attention, even through interruptions. And, because I’ve focused on what she is saying, I ask her several questions about her bad day.

However, while she’s answering my questions, I realize that her bad day is the result of an ongoing problem at work. Goody-goody—I can hardly wait till Amy finishes! When she’s finally done, I rub my hands together and spring myself on her with,  “Okay, listen, here’s what you need to do…” Off I go, giving her precise directions with the constant assurance that, “This will work, trust me.”

scared personInstead of putting Amy at ease, however, she’s starting to panic. She has come to me with a story about her bad day, and, with the force of a steam roller, I’ve backed her into a corner. What if Amy doesn’t want to do what I’m saying, or she doesn’t agree with me? She cringes, knowing that I’ll probably check up on her to find out whether she followed my advice, and she’s worried that she’ll hurt my feelings or make me angry if she doesn’t. Not only that, but my plan sounds like a lot of work, and may even put her in an uncomfortable position. Now she’s sorry she ever said anything to me. And when I finish fixing her all up, she’s confused-2681507_960_720outa there.

What did I do wrong?

Here’s something amazing that I realized as I listened and had others listen to me—most people, especially women, don’t want a listener to fix their problem.

Nope. They don’t.

They just want someone to listen—really listen—and to commiserate and care.

Ladies, do I hear an “Amen”?

People need to talk about their problems, fears, and worries. Sometimes, they need to pour out their frustrations or cry on someone’s shoulder. Unless we’re specifically asked to help fix a problem, refrain from pulling out that proverbial hammer or dazzling them with our wise-sage advice.

So what should I have done instead in Amy’s case?

  1. Listened with a quiet mouth and attentive heart until she finished with praying togethereverything she wanted to say.
  2. Prayed with her—right then and there. If the setting or circumstance didn’t allow me to pray, I should have told her that I’d pray for her at home, and then do it!
  3. Offered to help in any way I could and to listen any time she needs to talk.
  4. Called, texted, or emailed her in a few days to see how she is and to assure her that I’m praying.

On occasion, God will bring a person to us, because we have the solution to their problem. Sometimes it’s obvious that we need to impart some advice—maybe a friend is overwhelmed, because she has to find a memory care facility for her mother, and my family just went through the same experience and knows some good places with excellent care. In this situation, I said, “We just found a great memory care for my mom. Would it be helpful if I gave you some recommendations?” We need to pray for wisdom and discernment, so we’ll know when to refrain and when to explain.

When we become good listeners, we are glorifying our big God. And if we want to be more like Jesus, we need to demonstrate God’s love by taking the time to be caring, compassionate listeners.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12, NIV)

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry. (Psalm 34:15, NIV)

I’d love to hear your comments and stories about experiences you’ve had as a listener or a listenee. Just click on “comments” under my name and type away!

May God bless you with ears to truly hear.

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