The project that had consumed most of a full week had been arduous, but not unpleasant, which was a pleasant surprise. I had hoped that cleaning out my office for the use of Bethesda Workshops’ succession leader would be an experience more benign than emotionally painful, yet my default is to expect the worst. How nice to find that decision fatigue was the hardest challenge as, one by one, I reviewed nearly 30 years’ worth of accumulated books, records, and files.
I set myself up for success by visually creating what I cognitively knew should happen: I labeled multiple folding tables with signs like SHRED, RECYCLE, THROW AWAY, GIVE AWAY, and take home (intentionally reduced in size and font). The “take home” table was very small, and I determined that space would be the limit of what I kept. (And I succeeded – yay!)
Close friends offered preemptive, helpful reminders that, for example, neither I nor the ministry needed the written record of all the arrangements associated with every speaking engagement and conference I’d been a part of since 1995. Or the insurance binders going back to the incorporation of Bethesda Workshops as a separate nonprofit, or the printed workbooks for workshops held in earlier years. (Yep, I had all of that and more in neat files that filled two cabinets.) All the important documentation is electronic, of course.
Facing the long walls of bookcases was more formidable. A good friend suggested I keep asking myself, “Will you really use that book?” and I soon found the answer was no. (It helps that most books are easily replaced if necessary, thank you, Amazon.) Still, I held each one and neatly blacked over my name hundreds of times. I read the personal notes that many authors or gifters had written in them (a few of which brought such sweet emotions), then concealed those messages before the book went on a GIVE AWAY table. By the time I was through, hundreds of books were stacked by category on multiple tables in the large open area outside my (now-former) office. They’ll be offered to workshop participants, and I expect that most will be taken before very long.
With each decision and step, I felt relief, lighter, freed.
That is until late on a cold Saturday afternoon as I lugged heavy trash bags outside , lifted them into large rolling containers, and scooped huge armfuls of (non-confidential) files into recycling bins beside the trash. Suddenly, on the last of dozens of such trips over the course of several days, I was hit with what was in front of me in those now-full bins: the physical accumulation of thirty years of a professional life. I sank to the ground with my back against a looming container and wept tears that were more reflective than sad.
Some of the history I was discarding hadn’t risen to mind in years, while other parts were as fresh as this morning. In equal measure, the cleaning-out process had reminded me of some of the best moments of my career . . . and some of the worst. The pain of failures, disappointments, and missteps, as well as the incredible highs of successes and accomplishments, of relationships and fulfilled goals all flashed across my internal screen. All of it was colored with the richness of the ministry’s Bethesda blue.
As I sat on the cold pavement and looked across to my beloved garden, a loving MamaGod reminded me that the tangible items I had sorted for days were only the dust jackets of all those events. Their impact and lessons remain, and future things await.
Immediately, I thought of my mantra for this season: FORWARD! I am blessed with a heart for the history, for a firm hand on the present, and for an eye on the future – all securely wrapped in a spirit of gratitude. There’s no better way to enter this transition into the many new situations in my life, not just handing over the leadership of Bethesda Workshops.
Whether you’re at the end of a long career or even toward the end of a long life – or perhaps, more importantly, whether you’re at the end of your rope or your hope – I invite you to embrace every new beginning. I had a huge shake-up at age 24, another at 35, another at 65, and another now at 67. I’ve learned through them all (eventually) that you can be grateful for the positive things of the past, learn from the failures, and move faithfully into the future.
As trite as the saying may be, each day truly is a new beginning. Just keep moving FORWARD.
Marnie C. Ferree