“God, what is wrong with me?” I sobbed. The pages of my journal blurred as tears filled my eyes and poured down my face. My heart felt like it was breaking into a million tiny pieces.
And all this over a dining room table.
After tearing up our old, stained carpeting and knocking down an interior wall, my parents had decided that our newly refurbished living room would look better as a dining room and accordingly had set about pushing couches and side tables out of the way. It was one afternoon’s work, hardly a big deal at all. But as my dad and brother grunted and strained against the furniture, and chair legs shrieked against new hardwood, my chest constricted, and my throat burned. Taking my book, I had fled upstairs to my room, where I fought a losing war against a storm of emotions.
“We’re moving some furniture, not selling the house,” I growled to myself. “It’s not a big deal, get a hold of yourself!”
But I was sixteen. Overnight, it seemed, my world had changed. Suddenly the future, which had always seemed safely far away, was racing toward me at a breakneck speed. Suddenly I was balancing on a knife’s edge, tiptoeing my way toward the right college and the right career. Suddenly “the real world,” where eight-hour workdays swept away my girlish daydreams, was looming before me, inescapable and bleak. People kept asking me about my plans for the future, as though I had any control as the vast, shadowy arms of the unknown wrapped themselves around me.
In the midst of the terrifying unknown, my comfortable home became my fortress. Its familiar, predictable rooms were a solid refuge in my storm of fear. Let all the world go mad, nuclear war erupt, and zombies emerge from their graves; I was certain that I could handle anything, as long as my home stayed the same.
But now, my familiar house was changing. The simple act of switching around some rooms had tipped my world off of its axis and thrown me into a tailspin.
This wasn’t the first time my comfortable world had been shattered from the inside. First, it had been thrown into confusion by the arrival of a six-month-old foster girl.
She had arrived in the middle of the night, screaming as though she could wake up Lady Justice. A cloud of metallic-smelling baby formula and stale cigarette smoke billowed in with her. Bounced around from foster home to foster home, this baby had already been irrevocably changed by trauma; the nonstop hysterical screaming was a symptom of that, and it continued for weeks. She was only supposed to stay with us for a few days until a permanent placement could be found. But my parents had bonded with her during the screaming nights, and they lobbied to be a long-term placement. She stayed for a year and a half, long enough to start calling my parents “Mama” and “Daddy.” Long enough for Mama and Daddy to start talking with lawyers and filling out paperwork in hopes of adopting her.
One step in the adoption process is DNA testing. The girl’s mother didn’t know who the father was, so the court had to use DNA to find him. They discovered a young man living with his mom in New York, acne throwing wild parties on his forehead, and asked if he’d be willing to sign over parental rights to us.
He was not. Instead, he arrived one morning with a U-Haul and permission from the court to take my baby sister away. My mom helped put her in the car, unwilling to be parted a moment sooner than she had to be. She pried the little girl’s arms from around her neck and buckled her in through a constant shrieking babble of “Mama, no! Mama, no! Mama, Daddy, NO!” The car door slammed shut on her cries.
And then she was gone, and my world, the world of silly songs and laughter, was shattered. The ground was ripped out from under my feet, and I was free falling.
But I had landed. I had landed in the tenth grade, in a home that was less bright, less baby-proofed, less full of laughter, but nonetheless mine. And I decided that if my family could be ripped apart in a single day, and my God would sit back and let it happen, I would take my faith from them and place it on the cold, concrete foundations of this house.
And I started collecting. Well, collecting is one way to look at it. Less generous people might call it hoarding.
To be fair, I’d always had hoarder tendencies. I came by them honestly: my grandpa, now retired, had been a struggling entrepreneur who took the adage “Waste not, want not” very seriously. One day, when I’d been fighting to pull an armful of hay from a tightly packed bale, he had wordlessly disappeared into his garage and returned with a rusty hay saw that was older than me. When I mentioned its age to him, Grandpa laughed and told me it was older than him too.
Most people don’t have a shed full of their great-grandfather’s farm implements as an heirloom. Most people don’t have an uncle who works at the town dump constantly bringing home junk to “fix.” For a long time I’d assumed it was normal for everyone’s parents to fight about the boxes of old VHS tapes, the two broken typewriters, and the three-legged pool table crowding the basement, but apparently most people don’t have that, either.
If there was ever a way to resist change, resist time, and defy the loss of people, things, and memories, my family probably has it stored in a box and forgotten in a garage somewhere.
In a hoarding mindset, everything is sacred. Shells I’d collected on an unnamed beach when I was seven, a leather bridle I’d taken apart to clean and couldn’t get back together, and the dust bunnies rolling out from under the bed all had the same level of importance. My new, self-imposed religion forbade the throwing out of old receipts, the vacuuming of lint from the carpet, and the sorting of clothes in the closet. If I followed the rules, the god of hoarded things promised, I could limit the amount of loss in my life. The future, my friendships, and even my family were uncertain, but my stuff was static. Stuff was something I could rely on. I could build a bulwark where reality wouldn’t touch me. Resist change, my new god said, and it will flee from you.
But then my parents decided to make the living room the dining room and the dining room the living room. They were moving and shoving and rearranging the things that I considered sacred, and I was hiding upstairs, letting tears fall on my journal.
A deep voice spoke in my ear.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
I curled tighter and shook my head.
“No. You took away everything solid, everything safe!”
“I am the only solid rock. I will never leave you or forsake you.”
There was a presence sitting beside me on the bed. As real and solid as the wall at my back and the notebook in my lap, a great lion was sitting next to me, breathing warm breaths into my face. I wasn’t afraid or particularly surprised to see Him; I knew the voice that had spoken to me. I hadn’t expected Him to answer my call, though, not when I had been worshipping other things—everything, anything that I could get my hands on.
“I miss You,” I whispered.
The lion’s breath curled around me.
“I’m with you. You’re mine.”
A second later, the lion was gone, though I hadn’t seen or felt Him leave. The feeling of warmth and safety remained.
I was exhausted, I realized, from a long day and a hard cry. I tipped sideways onto my pillow and wiggled under the covers.
“I’m still scared. Dunno if I trust You, really,” I murmured into the pillow.
No voice answered, but my last thoughts before I drifted off to sleep were of Him, smiling and reaching out for my hand.