I am not skilled at sorting. Too much of my house is one great pre-DIY picture: books piled and stacked upon shelves; toys overflowing from baskets; paintings and frames stacked behind pieces of furniture, waiting to be hung. We have lived in our new house for over a year and I am still sorting.
When my parents moved from their house in Virginia to Houston, I went home and sat in the attic with my mother among the boxes. We pulled from them treasures and we pulled from them trash. I found a picture I drew in preschool of a stick figure wearing skates. When I grow up I want to be my teacher had written. I had her fill in the blank with roller skater. Another box held mildewy stuffed animals that went in the trash.
I had a lot of energy in the start. I always have a lot of energy in the start.
Endings? I’m not so good at endings. I’m not great at the slow middles either.
That’s where the sorting happens. In the attic with my mother we shared memories and packed boxes and labeled things with Sharpies and then the night wore on and I got tired and began to use the black trash bags more than the boxes. “Just throw it away,” became my chorus. I didn’t have the patience or the emotional room for so many things, so many memories.
Now, years later, I still have regrets that I didn’t make time or summon up more energy for the sorting. There are things lost that I wish I had kept. Like: my parents entire record collection, which we gave to Goodwill. The Jaws score that I used to listen to as a (very weird) child and the Beatles album, even though I hate the Beatles—all gone. Someone had a very lucky day at the thrift store.
Last New Year’s Eve, I sat with Rob’s family, sorting through so many of Lynn’s things. She died the day before, and she still had a presence in the house. Her laughter was so near. I could hear the things that she would have said as we pulled out her old letters and journals. We laughed and we held fragile paper in our hands and lifted dusty swatches of fabric. We drank wine and we sorted, with laughter and tears.
It was beautiful but heavy, and whenever it became too much I would stand outside for a moment, breathing in the sharp December air until my asthma became too much.
When midnight came, we were elbow deep in boxes and the children ran in and among us with noisemakers and horns and it really did feel like a celebration. The bittersweet kind.
Sarah Bessey begins her book Out of Sorts talking about this very kind of sorting. When her grandmother died, another relative held an estate sale without telling the rest of the family. One box was all Sarah received from her grandmother. She says:
We didn’t get to go to her house and tell stories about our favorite photos or treasures, swapping memories to help us say good-bye. We simply waited in a hotel room while my uncle took care of all the details. Our grief had no release of storytelling and memory keeping…I wonder now if the experience of sitting together, telling the stories as we sorted through her home, if that would have healed us? If we needed to learn to love each other better by all loving the same old woman?
There is something powerful to the sorting. Even if I am not particularly adept at doing it in my home, even if I run out of steam when it’s time for a full-scale sorting. It is hard, but it is also good. Sometimes it requires stepping away for a bit, getting a few cleansing breaths in the quiet dark.
If you are a person of faith, you will have a season of sorting. Many seasons over a lifetime, probably. Bessey says that these times are when we begin to question or doubt those things that we once held to be true. This can be a scary and painful time. It is not generally encouraged by the church. Though I think it is mostly unintentional, when someone confesses doubt like a big gaping hole in the wall of his or her faith, other Christians try to tidy it up. With platitudes and encouragements to just “have faith,” they try to plaster right over that hole. They brush away the dust and hand a painting in a cheap frame right over the hole, good as new.
I understand why they do this. These seasons of sorting are more than difficult. They are raw and they are sometimes terrifying. When you feel what was once solid beneath you shift, it is no small thing. I remember lying in the floor of my room for a summer, looking at the Bible, which felt like a bunch of accusations rather than a balm of truth. Prayer even felt wrong.
I’m here, I told God. I can’t talk and I can’t read, but I think you might be here and I’m here.And I would lie in the floor, giving him the best I could do in that time of sorting. Gradually, I found the words again to pray. I read the Bible and felt the life there again. Different than before, but no less true.
We fear the spiritual sorting because it is messy. Because it feels like a shameful secret to admit. Because people tend to try to rush us through. It strikes fear, I think, because we all sense how difficult it is to really question. To wrestle as Jacob did. We might, as he did, walk afterward with a limp.
Out of Sorts gives permission to be out of sorts. To be in a place of sorting. To be gut-wrenched or to be quietly unsure. To be a little bitter or a lot sad. To question and doubt and ask and wonder and give yourself some time. Sarah Bessey invites you to her table. She is gentle and kind and welcomes you. She does not expect we will all land in the same places, except for that one most important place: the feet of Jesus.
We can be out of sorts at his feed and that, I think, is the big secret in Christianity. IT IS OKAY TO QUESTION AND DOUBT AND STRUGGLE. I think of John the Baptist, sending his disciples to Jesus while he was in prison: Should we expect someone else?
This from the man who pointed to Jesus and said: The Lamb of God come to take the sins of the world! It happens to us all, the John the Baptists and the Thomases.
We will be sorting again soon: Rob’s dad has sold their house. The house where one of the grandchildren was born. The next room over is the one where Lynn died. I am steeling myself for it: sorting takes a special kind of strength.
But I have been given permission and given a gift by reading Sarah Bessey’s words. To sort is to find the old stories and to build new ones. It is to dive in deep, to press in even as it hurts.
Sorting is to wrestle until we receive the blessing, even if that blessing comes by way of a limp.
I received this book as a part of Sarah Bessey’s launch team, but all opinions are my own. This book is so important and if you have ever questioned, you should grab your copy TODAY. (<- This is an affiliate link.)