If someone would have asked me if I was a collector, I would have said, “no.” Yet, I am learning this is actually not true. I am in the process of letting go of things…things that I have been collecting unbeknownst to me. The act of collecting shares little secrets of who we are. The things we pick up and cling to share the story of what we hold dear and what we find beautiful in the world. Maybe these things start out as gems—treasures, but it is important to strip ourselves of our collecting from time to time literally and figuratively, so that our lives can become free of the things that keep us cluttered in our space, in our hearts, and in our minds.

There is a picture that has hung on the wall in every home I have lived in for the past nine years. I purchased it at a street market in South Africa. It is a painting of a woman who was pregnant. I believed she was pregnant with possibility. The artist who painted this picture was painting a self portrait. I felt compelled to learn more about her and learned during our conversation that she was sick with HIV AIDS. It is unlikely that she is alive today, but then I remember thinking that her life was pregnant with a possibility that she might not ever realize and so I purchased two paintings of hers, both of pregnant women. I gave one away to a friend who was struggling to give birth to a book. It has since been written and in the book, she named the painting as a source of inspiration.

The paintingIMG_0798_2 I kept was an icon of sorts in my life. I would sip coffee in the morning and pray that my life too might be inspirational, that I might give birth to the dream of life God had in store for me. Just last week I took the painting off the wall and packed it up with me on a trip. I gave the painting away to a friend who long ago gave birth to a boy who inspires me every day to live my life more faithfully. My friend did not want to bring the boy into the world when he was born because she feared what kind of life he would have, for her boy was born with skin that was black. I remember crying that night after her story. I cried for her, for her son, and for the children I might not ever have. When the tears withdrew from my eyes, I made a promise to that little boy that I would not give up. I wanted his mother to have the painting so she would remember how important she and he have been to me.

I am a collector. I have a statue of Moses with the Ten Commandments from Zimbabwe that I bought for $6.00 on the street. I have a serving tray made for me by women in Palestine with magnificent embroidery. I have a basket woven for me by a woman in South Sudan. I have tea cups that were used by my Great Grandmother Molly Pearson. I have a gerber daisy painting that was painted for me by an old roommate after she held me as I cried tears I could not stop for missing a brother who would never lift me high in a hug again. I have a hand crocheted quilt given to me by my grandmother and a red glass vase that was the only thing I took from her home when she died. I have a cross I wear around my neck that was given to me by a Muslim man who when he looked into my eyes spoke into my life the words of my ordination as a Pastor. I have a coffee cup that reminds me of my calling, “to make God’s love real.”

I have learned that I collect more than things over these weeks of letting go. Tied up with all the things are the emotions that get woven into them. Emotions can live with us longer than we should allow. In this season of letting go, I am also learning to let go of disappointment, anger, and grief. I am sure I will pick them back up again and again as I will pick up more things without even knowing I am doing it. Yet, disappointment, anger, and grief are not emotions to cling to, they are emotions to work through. Resting in God’s Spirit through these emotions has helped me to grow through them. On the other side of my release, I experienced a new strength and the peace that brings with it breath. Where disappointment, anger, and grief once lived, Joy now resides. I have decided to be a collector this year of Joy. It can’t be collected apart from the journey of the dance with God on the mountain top, the trudge with God in the valley, and the moments of ordinary with God in the spaces in between. I choose to be a collector of at least one thing, the Joy that comes in this life from truly living!

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