What to Do When a Keepsake's Memories are Painful

Sometimes, digging through keepsakes can take an unexpected turn.

I was helping my youngest stepdaughter sort through her old clothing in the attic. There were costumes and dance recital outfits mixed with that old pair of soccer shorts that have a life of their own (some things never die...). We were gushing over "You were so little then!" and oooo-ing, and aww-ing, as you would expect.

The next garment appeared from the Rubbermaid tub -- a sheer little dance skirt that I’d sewn from remnant fabric. It was fairly wrinkled but we both recognized it right away. Her response was“Awwww . . . my dance skirt you made for me!” Instant tears caught me off guard and I panicked, not wanting her to see me cry. The sight of the skirt triggered overwhelming embarrassment and shame.

What the heck?!

Standing there in the middle of our attic, clutching that homemade dance skirt, the familiar knot of financial stress from our first years of marriage returned to my stomach. We didn’t have the means to buy a dance skirt, then. I did my best to create something twirly and help her feel like the other girls in her dance class. But I knew my sewing workmanship wasn’t the greatest. The sheer green fabric in my hand reproduced all the emotions from the past -- nights of worry, the desire to provide nice things, the fear of the unknown future, and even shame that my girl had to wear my humble attempt at making something from nothing.

When a possession triggers an enormous emotional response, pay attention. It can be a sure sign that your heart still needs healing, someone needs to be forgiven, or a belief you’re carrying has a big lie in it.

My financial hang-ups are bigger than I like to admit. I love thinking I’ve overcome them but I'm still fighting fear. I still battle a poverty mentality. I continue to struggling to maintain a balanced perspective. Past financial battles still elbow their way into present day.

A dance skirt told me I need help to move past my money fears.

Keepsakes are connectors. They are inanimate objects with no power of their own but they connect us to something extremely powerful — the ability to time travel to a point in our life where experiences shaped our conclusions. These conclusions become beliefs based on how we processed them, how we responded. The beliefs may have had a modicum of truth mixed in, or could be devoid of any truth at all ... but it’s what we ended up adopting as our version of truth.

If Dad walked out on your family, you may have surmised men cannot be trusted. When your school adviser told you to add a teaching degree “to fall back on” you concluded your music talent wasn’t good enough -- and maybe you weren't good enough. When your best friend never came to any of your ball games, you may have figured that friends weren’t reliable as a support system and you were better off on your own. When you were always chosen last for the teams at recess, you assumed you weren’t valuable.

Each experience and scenario holds the opportunity to start believing things tend up shaping who you are and how you manage your life.

So if you feel anger when you see one of Dad’s old books, or sadness when you listen to show tunes you performed in college, or resentment when you find your ball cap from a Little League baseball game and feel a sense of loneliness creep in, there’s probably good reason. Those keepsakes and memories serve as flags that warn you something needs to be set right again. My immediate response to those flags is usually, "Whoa. God, what was that response all about?"

Keepsakes hold the surprising power of letting us know we need help. We need someone’s help to process, sort it out, to press through with counseling, or embrace forgiveness . . . maybe just seek out a friend to process the whole thing out loud with fresh perspective. Seek whatever resource helps you best.

As you sort through the stuff in your home and find that old birthday card tucked under the family photos, let your heart really listen and serve as an indicator. Keepsakes can be the starting point of healing and help you unplug pain that has bothered you for years. They can also let you trigger peace, calm, and joy, so listen to what they're telling you.

Have your keepsakes been talking to you lately?

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