When All Else Falls Away

I’m a sentimental person by nature. I love gifts that have a personal meaning, heirlooms, and reminders of the ones I love. Other than my wedding ring I don’t own any fancy jewelry but I do own pieces that are absolutely priceless to me like the small diamond necklace that belonged to my grandmother that I wore in my wedding or the ring that my sister got made for me out of a piece of Gram’s silverware.

I am however also a person who loves order and organization. When my mom, whom I learned my sentimentality from, gave me an envelope of childhood items she had kept for me, she was disgusted that I didn’t plan on keeping many of them. Sure that cute picture I drew in kindergarten is nice to show my kids but do I need every report card I ever got in school and every newspaper clipping from the times I made the honor roll?

My distaste for clutter and my love of memory often collide and I am conflicted in what truly matters enough to keep. So I am trying to find a balance with my own kids and the difficulty is compounded as we downsize to two suitcases apiece that we will take with us in our move to South Asia next month.

When we lived in the Middle East before we had children we packed as light as we could. I remember in moments of culture shock and homesickness how I longed for something to remind me of home. Maybe I am erring on the side of taking too much now as we look at paying for a couple extra bags but I don’t want to regret not having those items that connect us to home. That pillow made for our kids by the teacher who cared for them after school since birth, the dollhouse lovingly made by my childhood best friend for my own daughter (even though it weighs twenty pounds), those stuffed animals given as gifts that they cuddle with each night—all going.

I’ve tried to catalog memories in such a way that we will actually relive them one day. I have boxes full of old-school photo albums that I do actually revisit from time to time (You know, when we used to actually print photos and stick them in books? Many of mine are actually Polaroid’s, gasp!) We don’t have many photos of my husband’s childhood because most of his were lost years ago in a flood. I regret not having those every time someone says how much our son looks like his dad.

In the busyness of life I had gotten behind on making the computer-generated photo books I have made for each year of our children’s lives, so I spent hours in the last few weeks before our big move pouring over pictures from the last three years. I met my goal of getting the books done but those books were bulky and expensive and I didn’t want to risk losing them on the move, so straight into storage they went. Knowing how much the faces of the people we love would bring comfort, I set out to make a smaller book of family and friends to take with us.

I was surprised at the pictures that gripped my heart and I felt like I needed to include. Of course, there were photos of all of our family and friends we see regularly. But I found myself including places and people that meant more than I had realized. There was a photo of our church building. It’s been home to us for over twenty years. There was the monastery I visit for retreats several times a year that has also become such an important part of my spiritual journey. Our son’s soccer team from last year (I couldn’t name any of the kids now) made the cut because of how that time in his life brought him out of his shell and lit him up and I always want to remember that. In went a photo of my daughter with her foster cousin that only remained in our family for a few weeks but she still remembers and prays for. I want her to always know that family looks like so much more than blood relatives. I realized how important my writing family is to me as I included photos of the ladies of the Redbud Writer’s Guild at our last retreat, me with other SheLovelies (SheLoves writers and editors) and Mudroommates (my Mudroom family).

I know I am more sensitive than usual with all the grief of leaving behind all we know and love in just a few weeks but I am grateful too for the chance it’s given me to look back as we move forward. I’ve listened to people praying over our family with such love and passion that I know our connection is truly that of a spiritual family bigger than I can imagine. It’s opened my eyes to the people I want to hug before I go, those who I have no choice but to stay in touch with because they are such a part of me and I will whither without them. I’ve seen the love that is left when all the clutter of life falls away and it is truly worth holding onto.

Nicole T. Walters

Nicole T. Walters

Nicole T. Walters loves to experience and to write about this messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not her own. Her family currently calls the southern United States home but she travels internationally as often as she gets the chance with her husband and two little ones. She hopes to help others create space to hear God's voice in the all the noise of life as she writes about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise {nicoleTwalters.com}. Her writing has appeared in places like Relevant, CT Women, and Ready. She is a regular contributor here at The Mudroom and over at SheLoves Magazine, and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. You can read more of Nicole's story in her essay included in the newly released book Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives.
Nicole T. Walters

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  • You have me thinking…. I tend to collect artwork. We have pieces bought from travels as well as cross-stitched scenes from my grandma. When my other grandmother died this year, I asked for a print she and my grandfather bought while they were visiting our family when we lived in Germany. I wouldn’t call us minimalist (it’s hard with young kids!!) but when I look around our house, anyone can see our family story and values hanging from the artwork on the walls. I’m glad you’re paying for an extra bag or two – that anchor to home is priceless.

  • I’m familiar with the contrast of sentimentality and order. It’s sometimes a struggle but one I gladly embrace. Your writing here as made me think we’re always leaving something – a house, a town, college, a job, a class….but we leave to go forward. May you go forward to growth, to exciting challenges and to knowing you will never leave love.