Invited Into the Junk Closet

This is the last pondering/ rambling about us being a house, I promise!

Part 1: You are a House is here.

Part 2: Discernment (alternate title -- I can see in  your windows!) is here.

However, this is what started this whole thought process. I had to find a way to put words/ imagery to this experience.

I mentioned that we all have a junk closet in our house. Okay -- Jennifer only has a junk drawer. And it probably has labeled dividers in it. Whatev. (I actually don't have a junk closet in my physical house because I have exactly 3 closets in my house -- one in each bedroom -- but my laundry room gets an honorary nod as a junk closet. And the bottom of my pantry. And my attic. You get the idea...).

I have a dear friend whose figurative junk closet contained not only stuff that she crammed in there, but a WHOLE load of pain and garbage that life and other people piled in. I'll call her Hoarder of Other People's Junk. Several years ago, partly due to her choosing, and partly because life threw her yet another wrench, HOPJ finally cried "mercy" and said, "ENOUGH!!"

She dusted off her scraped and bruised knees, stood on her shaky feet, and proceeded to clean out that junk closet.

Ever been through a box of painful memories? Yeah -- that's cleaning out the junk closet. One photograph and memento at a time. Remembering the pain and heartache and tossing them out. In cleaning out the figurative junk closet, you come across habits and behaviors that you have created as coping/ comforting mechanisms to deal with the pain -- and depending on how healthy or unhealthy THOSE are, you may have to get rid of something that has been very comfortable for you.

In short, it's a pain to clean out the junk closet. Literally. It's an ugly process.

HOPJ has spent years getting healthy, uncovering those coping mechanisms, tossing out the unhealthy, forging a better life for herself. She is no longer HOPJ -- now she is Standing on Her Own Two Feet.

'empty closet' photo (c) 2009, Sarah_Ackerman - license: too long ago, Standing invited me into her former junk closet. There is one last order of business that needs taking care of on her road to a complete closet re-do -- and she would like my help.

Realizing that this closet has held some of her deepest pain and biggest hurts, I had to confess my hesitation. Hesitation not only to simply be there, but to say anything once I came in:

"I'm... I'm not sure what I can say and can't say about this last pile of junk."

"You can say anything."

Very thoughtfully, she explained: "You have enough deposits in my love bank. I know that anything you say is out of love and wanting my closet to be clean. ThisOne can't say anything. I just got through shoveling fifty pounds of manure that ThisOne dumped in my junk closet, so ThisOne can't say a word without it upsetting me. It's just bringing the junk back into the closet. But you? You can say anything."

At that moment in time, I felt the urge to remove my shoes.

I realized that I was standing on Holy Ground.

To be invited into the deepest recesses of another's soul -- the place where the biggest hurts and fears, and even the biggest Dreams, live-- is a hallowed, sacred place.

I realized the level of trust it took for Standing to invite me in, lay bare her hurts and fears, and let us sit in the middle of her junk closet together and find a way to clean that sucker out.

I wondered how often someone has allowed me -- without me having full awareness -- a toe, a glimpse, a part of his/ her junk closet... and I treated it flippantly, casually, a wave of the hand, a smile, a half of an ear.

And when I didn't understand the gravity of that situation, not only did I pile more into the junk closet, but that person put one more nail in the door, vowing never to let anyone else peek inside again.

It is a beautiful, sacred experience when we offer pieces of our lives and selves to each other. When  trust is established and we know it is a safe place to be. It goes so far beyond fellowship, yet must start there.

And... truth be told. You have to go first. You have to be willing to trust someone first. And at some point someone will breech that trust and you'll get hurt (you can forgive, but you don't have to be an idiot and trust them twice...). That's what makes us all tick and connect. The ability to reach out and say: "I think you're worth taking a risk on. I like you. I trust you with my junk."

And? Follow Standing's example. Get your junk cleaned out. Get a professional junk cleaner if necessary. Find a friend/ spouse who will go through your junk with you. Because life is constantly piling on new junk. No need to keep dragging around the old junk.



I don't know if I'm a slow learner or if it takes all of us well into our adulthood to know and figure out our spiritual gifts.

I'm trying to prevent this in my children -- and verbalize what spiritual gifts I see in them. I'm not much of a visionary, so it's up to them to hear how God wants to use it in their lives, but I do think identifying your own gifts is the first step.

Partly because some vague gifts we don't realize that other people don't have.

So it is with my own gift of discernment.

That's one of the reasons that I started pondering us -- our beings, our souls, the part that makes us who we are -- as a house. I was trying to put words to my gift of discernment -- and why so few people appreciate it in me. :-)

As I stated, I think most people spend most of their relationships on their front porch. I'm learning that a few people don't ever go into their own homes at all -- too painful, perhaps, too disorderly... but they simply can't walk in there at all. Not even in the quiet of their own thoughts.

So there they are on the porch. I stroll by, seeing how our relationship is going.

This is where my discernment has gotten me in trouble more times than I care to think about.

'Fenster02' photo (c) 2009, Stefan Schmitz - license: allows me to see in your windows. Not necessarily all the way to your junk closet -- but I can tell if you have a junk closet or not, and if it's bulging at the hinges or if you clean it out periodically. I can peek into parts of your house you may already know but don't want to talk about... or you may have no idea because you don't want to know.

Being helpful, I think you should know:
"Um... your couch is on fire... would you like some help putting that out? I'll go with you to get water, call the fire department... I'll even help you pick out a new couch!"

"What??" you reply. "I don't have a couch! Don't be ridiculous! Hey, did you see the new flip flops I got? Did you hear about the awesome award my kid got? What about that new TV series? Aren't you watching it?"

"Uh... yeah... all those things are great. But, seriously. Your couch? Totally ablaze in there. Can I help you with that?"

And now I have crossed the line. Because people who don't go inside their own houses don't want to hear about what's going on in there. And they give me all kinds of reasons that I may THINK their couch may be on fire, but it actually isn't. And our relationship is quite icy from there on out.

Just as we have to teach children it's rude to look into other people's windows, so we must teach those with discernment to play the game and pretend not to see... until the person is ready to see. It's rude to look into other people's windows. Not everyone is ready for what is in there.


Angels Unaware

I have written for a magazine called "Christian Chronicle" so occasionally the editor will send out a call for news, pictures, or thoughts or ideas.

Most recently (that I remember) he relayed his experience (that he VERY eloquently wrote about here) of visiting a congregation and not being greeted very warmly and was curious if we had ever experienced the same thing.

Oh, dear.

I am ALWAYS happy to give my opinion about something, and if it's something that I feel strongly about? Well, you just better make yourself comfortable, because I have got a THING or two to say!

Ten years ago, when our family moved to SmallTown (but with gazillion churches) we encountered the same thing to a degree: no one really speaks to you unless a member forces them to: "HEY! Have you met the Stirmans??? They are moving here! They are looking for a church home!" THEN the light bulb goes off and the friendly switch comes on. We got a little bit of that since my husband was working at one of the largest places in town and we knew a few people in town already.

Ironically, we honestly ended up placing membership at the least friendly church we encountered. But we knew a few people, and knew that we would eventually know more. But, BOY, did we have to WORK to know more!

At one point, very early in our time there, our lives were beyond stressful -- moving to SmallTown was a fiasco in and of itself -- and I sat through one entire Wednesday evening service with tears running down my face and occasionally sobbing. I was in the middle of enough people (and next to Troy) that it was pretty impossible to miss my emotional state.  Not one person inquired to my well being or even offered me a tissue. I began to question our decision to make that our church home -- and I definitely vowed to change how I viewed and treated people I didn't know within the walls of a church building.

Not long after my crying incident, I finally wearied of sitting in a Sunday school class FULL of people -- and none of them talking to me or my husband -- so we offered to help with the college students. That availed us to some people who were willing to get to know us: both the college students and the lovely people who worked with them.

'Handshake' photo (c) 2008, Jeff McNeill - license: I began to methodically meet my church family in a very simple, straightforward manner:
"Hi! My name is Sarah. I'm not sure we've met...?" (extending my hand to be shaken by person I don't recognize).

"Are you a member here?"

Sometimes I would meet a member. Sometimes I would meet a visitor. I was still doing that the Sunday before we moved away -- 10 years later -- and when that particular member said her name, I knew who she was, and who she was friends with, but we had never met. I also knew where she sat in first service (due to my previous sign language interpreting) and since I mainly attended second service, we didn't really cross paths.

Yay! I finally met someone that I had been worshiping with for 10 years! That's not embarrassing. That's knowing my church family!

So when we had to up and move to Suburbia -- oye with the starting over looking for churches! It's just so hard.

Here is the article that came from my rant about that.

In short, my portion says that of course, NOW we have "shake and bake" (a term not original to me, but my friend LOVES it that her moniker for the forced time of greeting in church made it into the Christian Chronicle) and people will slap a smile on their face THEN and greet you -- but I can think of several churches we visited where our family very awkwardly stood and chatted with each other while the people around us heartily greeted the people they already knew... and said nothing to us.

People... it isn't hard: do you recognize that face? No? Then introduce yourself!

I had someone say to me: "But that's just in your and Troy's nature..."

Uh, NO! It is not! My nature is to sit and study my cuticles and the pattern on the carpet. I am the definition of an introvert and am really good sitting there. However, my nature IS compassionate, and I know what it feels like to walk into a church and feel like NO ONE cares that you came or went. And it feels really crappy. And heaven forbid anyone feel that way with me sitting looking at my cuticles.

So I reach beyond my nature, extend my hand, and say: "Hi! I'm Sarah! I'm not sure we've met...?"

Now, time for true confessions:

A guy at church was kidding me about that article... yes the one where I complained that no one talked to us at church. As he's talking to me, I'm finding my way to my seat, stepping over a lady I don't recognize. He and I chat about our various experiences with such churches right up until church starts. At the end of church, several of us went up to pray with a family that was leaving to do mission work. I stepped over lady again to get out. At the end of the prayer, I turned and tried to get to her... but she and her daughter were hurrying out the door.

I am fairly certain not one person in that room spoke to her. While I sat next to her talking about that article where I complained about unfriendly churches.

That, boys and girls, is what is known as irony...

And I feel horrible.

However, I have to remind myself: there were 200 people in that room. SOMEONE could have stuck out a hand and said, "Hello! My name is...." But I'm fairly certain no one did. And I doubt we will get a second chance to say hello to her.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing.” Hebrews 13:2


A House?

'Unknown House in Keene New Hampshire' photo (c) 2011, Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County - license: are a house.

Nope. Not as BIG AS a house.

You are a house.

Your being, your soul, the part that makes you you -- that is your house.

If you know me the least little bit, you know that I am prone to pick apart a thought and over think and WAY over talk it, and lately I’ve been pondering us as a house. So now I shall over talk/ write it.

I think of our selves -- our real, true selves -- as our houses.

The thing is, most of our relationships in life are front porch relationships. And not in the “sit on the front porch and rock” good kind of way. In the “I don’t really want you in my house, so let’s stand on the porch and talk about the weather, my landscaping, good movies, other people, and how awesome my kids are” kind of way.

Every once in a great little while we will have a true and honest friend -- and, hopefully our spouses-- that we invite into our houses. We don't mind if they help us "fix up" a little, even. What one might call "holding us accountable" to some public goal we have.

But there is generally the junk closet. C’mon you have one. You know you do.

In your house and in your soul there is a junk closet -- full of pain and mess and crup that you want to keep the door locked and sealed forever on... like Monica’s closet on Friends.

It’s the rare friend that we invite into our houses. Rarer still, the friend that we ask to help us clean out our junk closet.

It's a dangerous prospect, the cleaning of the junk closet. For one, you have to dig back out the pain you purposefully crammed in there. And if you have someone cleaning with you, there is always the possibility of being hurt further. Because, let's be honest, every relationship is the potential for hurt. However... I've found that the majority are worth the risk. Especially junk closet friends.

Praying that you have friends in your life that you would invite into your junk closet -- your literal and figurative junk closet.

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