Today I’m excited to share with you an excerpt from a new book by Christine Organ called Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life. I’m in the process of reading through the short inspiring stories of this book and thoroughly enjoying it.
Christine shows that you can find big life lessons in the simplest interactions and events of everyday life. She touches on spirituality, parenting, friendship, self-acceptance and more in the stories, illustrating how we all could live more fully and connect more deeply with the people and world around us.
Following is an excerpt from Open Boxes, shared with permission from the author:
The closet in the upstairs hallway of our small Georgian house is lined with boxes. Some of the boxes are pale blue plastic, making the contents easily identifiable. Others are made of thick cardboard, decorated in flamboyant floral patterns, bright polka dots, or soft pastel paisleys. The boxes’ contents are as different as their exteriors—some of the boxes are filled with family photos, some with old report cards and elementary school projects from decades ago, and others with softly worn love letters written between my husband and me over the course of our relationship.
Stacked neatly, one on top of the other like a patchwork quilt, the boxes create some semblance of order, concealing the hodgepodge collection of memories and jumbled mess of mementos, tattered papers, and faded photos scattered inside. They separate, contain, and hide the relative disorder that lies buried inside. I love the boxes for this. The organization, order, separation, and concealment . . . honestly, it’s enough to make a (recovering) Type A perfectionist like myself almost squeal with delight.
The trouble is, while boxes are great in our closets, offices, attics, and basements, keeping boxes isn’t all that helpful for creating meaningful connection, finding spiritual fulfillment, or living a full—a busting-at-the-seams full—life. When we box up our lives, we set boundaries and draw clear lines, hiding vulnerabilities, isolating spiritual practices from our daily routine, and separating family from career from faith. Box-keeping doesn’t work all that well for those of us who want a life of meaning, purpose, and joy. While these tiny little boxes—with their neat rows and pretty exteriors—might give the illusion of order and put-together-ness, they also hide all the messy goodness inside.
When we live in this fragmented and disjointed world, with all of these box-like compartments for each facet of our lives, the spiritual is cordoned off from the secular. We keep our work life separate from our home life, which is detached from our social circles that are, in turn, kept a safe distance from our spiritual community. Yet despite these disjointed compartments and the frayed edges jumbled up inside the boxes, we have an inherent, almost primal, need to feel connected in a meaningful way to ourselves, to others, to our communities, to God, and to something bigger and greater than the separate aspects of our day- to-day lives. We have a deep yearning to feel a part of something more significant than the daily chaos and more meaningful than the monotony of our daily routines.
Like Caroline Myss wrote, “We’re on this planet to learn to be spiritual beings in a physical body, to gain consciousness of our greater purpose.”1 As a result, we realize a constant urge to break open the boxes and toss the contents into one big heap, letting the love letters and school reports mingle with the family vacation photos and baptismal gowns. Despite our tidy rows of boxes separating this from that, we hold a quiet hope for sacred connection; a tiny voice wonders if there might be some kind of divine undercurrent running through it all. We want to throw the contents of our tidy boxes together, with some faith that the pieces can be tied together, but we’re afraid of what might happen if some of the pieces get lost in the shuffle.
So we separate. We package. And we hide.
The world can be a drab, disheartening, and downright nasty place at times. It’s no surprise that we find it easier to simply separate ourselves with our pretty boxes, stuffing our hopes and fears into plastic flip-top receptacles. Just a half-hour of the evening news, for example, bombards us with stories of school shootings and gang violence, bombs and explosions, poverty and nuclear weapons, and all those things that don’t make sense. It’s far better, we rationalize, to stuff all this horror into one of the boxes before the salt can dry on our tear-stained cheeks. Even the happiness and joy—babies with wiggly toes, job promotions, and first “I love you’s”—get stuffed into their own boxes, a lid tightly placed on top lest the joy escape or dissipate.
We separate. We package. We hide.
And yet while we are separating, packaging, and hiding, there’s this raspy voice coming from somewhere deep inside, asking: Could there be a way to tie this all together, a way to make sense of all this madness and chaos, all this goodness and cruelty? The question might come when we’re sitting in church, head bowed. Or it might be found at the bottom of a bottle of wine. Or it might appear when we look into our children’s inquisitive eyes. But it arises eventually.
The questioning voice reached a fever pitch for me about seven or eight years ago. By all accounts, my life was full and satisfying. I had a handful of good friends and enough acquaintances to maintain an active social life. My husband and I had a stable and loving relationship. A new baby filled my days with diapers to be changed, smiles to be photographed, and bottles to be prepared. Our families were supportive and engaged with our lives. I went to church periodically, prayed every now and then, and read books by Eckhart Tolle and Anne Lamott to fill the gaps. And after a fairly successful career in the legal industry, I felt satisfied and ready to move into the new role of stay-at-home mom.
On paper, everything seemed to add up to a “good life.” Yet piece-by-piece, nothing seemed to fit together. It was as if I lived in a big sprawling mansion with plenty of rooms, all of which were separated by long, dark hallways, and I kept getting lost on my way from one room to the next. Like a stately, colonial house, my life looked fine on the outside; on the inside, however, my life was cordoned off, with each room disconnected from the others. This lifestyle—this separating, packaging, and hiding—was fine, I suppose, when life was moving along smoothly, but as soon as there was a bump in the road or something was amiss in one of the rooms—a casserole burning in the oven, broken shingles on the roof, a broken computer, a mountain of toys in the playroom—well, forget about it. There was no way I’d be able to make it from one room to the next, down those long, dark hallways. Emotions escalated far sooner than necessary, my moods more volatile. Tears were an almost daily occurrence, and I grew impatient with just about everyone and everything. But even more than the emotions, the moods, the tears, and the impatience was this constant sense of emptiness and disorientation. I felt like I had been dropped onto some faraway island where everyone knew the language, the customs, and the culture while I was fumbling with an out-of-date translation guide.
I felt lost and out of place.
And as I walked those metaphorical hallways, I kept hearing that voice—sometimes meek and a little desperate, other times raucous and eager—asking, Isn’t there something more? Isn’t there a way to break down these walls and bring it all together?
And the answer came, slowly and gently, but unmistakably.
Grace. Wonder. Miracles.
These beautiful mysteries break down the walls of our boxy, brick colonials and build bright, airy lofts with tall windows that let in the sunlight, casting reverberations of the sacred and an undercurrent of spirituality. Connecting, joining, reuniting.
Grace. Wonder. Miracles. They gently lift the lids on all the boxes we carry, gradually release the torn and tattered pieces, and tie the frayed edges together with a silken thread.
Grace. Wonder. Miracles.