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The Guilty Boxes
by Tammy McConnell
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There are two boxes near my bed; both flawlessly wrapped and beautiful, a collective display of design and faultlessness. They are my favorite colors of cranberry and cream and boast the textures that soothe me, offer peace, comfort, tranquility. They have to look like this; they’re right in plain view. I look at them every day. They’ve carved out a little niche in my life. They declare permanency; pronounce silently, “I am staying. I belong here.” I can rest my eyes upon them and be transported to a place where my soul finds respite; if only for a moment. Boxes can do that. Well, at least these boxes.

They have no labels. Maybe that’s why I occasionally hoist the wrong one, with the wrong purpose in mind, only to return it to its origin and test the other inconspicuously. Did anyone witness my mistake? Whew! I’ll have to be more careful next time.

I did not put them there. They just appeared one at a time, one after the other shortly after I became an adult, wife and mother. They did not make a startling or unsettling entrance. It’s almost as if they grew there, slowly, over time. They’ve always been the same size. Sometimes though, a lid starts to pop off. I hastily remove a portion of the contents and firmly press the lid back into place. There, that should be okay for a while. That particular box requires constant maintenance.

Other times, after all the kids are tucked in and hubby is settled with a good movie; I dare to indulge my heart’s desire under cloak of darkness at no one’s expense. What was that noise? I better put it back in the box before someone discovers my selfishness.

Today, as I pass by these beautiful keepsakes, I wonder, ‘Should I maybe do some spring cleaning? Do their contents need dusting, or maybe to be organized?” Hmmm. Surely it couldn’t hurt, right?

I close and lock the bedroom door. I return to the bedside table and contemplate my next move. I should probably begin with this one. OK, here goes. I gently, slowly lift the lid. ‘Oh no! It’s spilling out onto the floor. Hurry, hurry…put it back in…take care of it…fix it! Oh I wish I hadn’t attempted this on my own.’

“Mommy, are you okay in there? Do you need my help?” My youngest daughter is very concerned about the commotion she hears in my room. “Yes honey, mommy’s okay. I’ll get everything under control in a minute. Don’t worry. I don’t need any help. Go play, okay?” As I frantically try to push the contents back into the box, I begin to realize…it’s too much for me to take care of alone. I should never have opened this box! How could I have let it build up like that?

Normally my daughter is quite obedient. But sensing that her mommy was just being polite this time and that she really DOES need help, Julia runs hastily to retrieve daddy from the back yard. “Daddy! Mommy needs help in the bedroom…and the door is locked!” Responding to the urgency in her voice, my husband grabs our son on his way through the living room and quickly debriefs him while sprinting down the hallway. Brayton deftly jimmies the lock as he has done so many times, usually to someone’s disliking. This time though, he can hardly contain himself, pride oozing from the corners of his “I knew you would need me” smile, although tempered by his concern for his mother’s well-being.

The door hits the wall as it springs open. I look up into the eyes of my emotionally charged family, unable to contain my desperation, defeat. My husband is anxiously trying to discern whether I am physically hurt or just emotionally unhinged. The floodgates release, tears gush, sobs burst forth with great strength.

“Mommy…what’s that?” Her almost inaudible voice pierces the pandemonium. All eyes dart in the same direction. There on the floor lay guilty mementos of unfinished tasks, promises not yet fulfilled and everyday chores I had chosen not to delegate. Peeking out from under the bed are tokens of blame and unaccountability. You see, I thought these tasks were mine to accomplish. They are my job, my duty. They are things that I need to take care of, by myself. No one should have to help me. I am an adult, a wife, a mother. Phone calls I never got around to, letters that were never written, relationships that were not mended in a timely manner; all point accusingly in my direction. I have failed.

Pronouncements of innocence, misunderstanding and modest humility dissolve the shell that has crusted around me, but there is still a membrane wrapped tight around my psyche. What is it? It’s familiar…I can’t quite identify… My gaze drifts back to the nightstand. The other box.

My husband cautiously approaches the table now. Discerning that the contents are probably safe, given what the other box contained…he removes the lid. He reaches in and pulls out the first souvenir…"Sewing." A questioning expression shadows his face. His eyes firmly locked onto mine, he pulls out the next… “Gardening. I don’t understa…” his voice trails as he pulls out the next… “Coffee with a friend?” Suddenly my son interrupts the agonizing silence, “Those are mommy’s favorite things to do!” he announces triumphantly.

In unison, clarity lights up all of their faces. I am utterly ashamed. They have discovered my secret. I should not be entertaining my own selfish desires. Just look at all the things I never finished! I have no right to indulge in my self-proposed imaginings. Those boxes were supposed to remain closed. At least until I emptied the first one. Only then should I be allowed to crack open the other.

“But mom”, my “wise-beyond-his-years” son again intervenes. “Doesn’t God want you to be happy?” “Yes Brayton, He does want mommy to be happy. He says so in the Bible.” I hoped against hope that “Daddy” could back up what he was saying. “It says no such thing! Where? Show me.” Julia scrambles to retrieve my Bible from the very nightstand where one of the boxes still sits, looking very distant by now. “Here Daddy!” I nervously finger the trim of my blouse, waiting breathlessly for “permission” to be happy.

Brayton now rushes toward my husband with all the speed that a nine-year-old possesses. “Let me find it. I know where it is!” Grabbing my Bible, he excitedly flips through the pages. “Mom, you showed me once.” “What? Uh…I did?” “Oh! Here it is! Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” He slams the book shut with a self-satisfying “WHACK!”

‘How could I have forgotten that verse?’ I thought stunned. ‘Hope? Plans for good?’ With his usual 'There, I took care of that' attitude, my husband shoots over his shoulder as he’s leaving the room, “Hey, you kids help your mom clean up this mess. I’m going to call Eileen and see if she feels like a cup of coffee.”

A feeling of relief washes over me as I hoist myself from the floor. “Hope?…yeah…hope!” “Hey, is that Eileen on the phone? Let me talk to her.”

The boxes are still there. They will remain empty. I will no longer hoard my responsibilities; and more often than before, I will take time to nurture my dreams. They are still beautiful. I think even more so now.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Kamp 03 Apr 2006
Very well written and with a great message! It spoke to me because (1) my own unfinished (tasks, projects, responsibilities - pick one) often weigh me down not allowing me to enjoy the moment, and (2) Jer. 29:11 is one of my favorite verses that addresses so many situations.
Janice S Ramkissoon 29 Mar 2006
Thank you Tammy. There wasn't a word written that wasn't like sweet perfume to me. I left upstairs with tearfilled eyes and I was lead to this piece. Now the guilt is gone and I'm smiling again. Follow your dreams and make them count towards God's Kingdom. Stay blessed.
Amy Michelle Wiley  28 Mar 2006
Awesome article. I have my own "box" crammed full of things I aught to have done.
Lynne Fickett 27 Mar 2006
Great job! Well written. I thank you so much for the reminder that we need to take time for the things that nurture our souls and offer peace. It makes our less loved things in life and tend to let slide a little easier to handle. and a subject that serves as a reminder that there is a balance between the two that is so hard to maintain. Blessings as you write for His Glory!
Jan Ackerson  25 Feb 2006
Well done! I've selected this piece for use on the Front Page Showcase for the week of March 26. Watch for it there on FaithWriters home page. Very sweet piece!
Joyce Poet 16 Jan 2006
Could it be that you also relish in seeing the glorious tear-spills you cause? Guess I need to quit shirking my responsibilities and clean up after myself now. :::smile:::


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