Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cleaning Out The Closet

In days past, I missed the significance of small things.  I never fully understood how painful they could be.  Last Friday I had to do something I’ve been avoiding for almost fifteen months.  In one sense, I’d written it off as a little thing.  In fact, though, cleaning out Tammy's closet was big.  Her clothes, which she kept neatly organized, have been hanging just the way she left them that Thursday morning of August 2007.  I’ve cried in that closet, touched the dresses she wore, and then shut the door, knowing someday I’d have to deal with them.  That day proved easy to avoid.  In the early stages of grief there are much more pressing things to take care of than cleaning a closet.  Cleaning a closet is no big deal—or so I told myself.

In reality, dealing with the clothing of your loved one is difficult.  It seems to say they really aren’t coming back.  I never consciously entertained the idea Tammy would need these things again, but letting go of the last vestige of a person can be a great challenge. In my head I know the clothes she now wears are of far greater quality than anything hanging in that closet…yet the memories, the smell, the order all spoke of her.  Truthfully, I was stunned by the beauty and frugality of her clothing.  She could get more out of less than anyone I’ve ever known.  For years I kidded from the pulpit that if I used Tammy as an illustration I’d have to buy her a dress.  This would be the last time I would hold one of her illustration dresses in my hands.  

Be patient with those who grieving.  It doesn’t help to tell them that not cleaning the closet of their lost love is a sign of grief gone bad or weakness.  They’ll find a way some day to do it.  Just pray that God will give them strength, and He will answer that prayer.  I cried.  No, at moments I howled with a grief that I’m glad no one but my Lord could hear.  Those clothes represent so much.  Her beauty.  Her sense of style.  Her wonderful smell.  Even the order of her closet, especially compared to mine, was a painful reminder of a loss too great to calculate.  I’m not holding back at this moment; this was much harder than I anticipated.  

Even so, there was a feeling of health in this necessary act of reconciling my loss with my need and desire to live.  I reminded myself that Tammy was so much more than what she wore.  Memories associated with her clothing, of things we did as a couple or as a family, filled the room.  I was instantly grateful for her once again.  Cleaning out the closet was a watershed moment.  I’m glad I wept tears that I thought might have dried up. 

That afternoon I took the contents of Tammy’s closet to a home for women fighting drug addiction.  She loved the ministry of the Home of Grace and always prayed for and supported that great work.  So it was fitting that these women, finding new beauty in Christ, should wear the clothes that reflected Tammy’s beauty.  

When I pulled my truck around to the back door of the building, several women came to help me carry in the hangers of clothes.  They touched me with their understanding of my brokenness, their gentleness no doubt shaped by sorrows of their own.  I began to weep. The awful pain filling my heart was mixed with the joy of knowing that Tammy's things would help women who now hope to have the noble character of women touched by God's grace.  That was Tammy's story, and she wore it well.

In the middle of suffering, the child of God can rest in the assurance that the Lord is working and moving for our good and His glory.  I now walk into an empty closet, but it doesn’t feel empty. It feels settled.  I think I’m ready for what comes next.

Ed Litton

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pastor Ed,

Thank you for sharing how God is working in your life. The impact that you have on others going through this same issues is immeasurable. I praise God for the life that Tammy lived. Thank you again for living your life for Christ in front of all of us.

Adam King said...

Pastor,

Thank you for being so transparent. You are such an encouragement and I cannot how grateful I am that God allowed you to be my pastor.

Growing and learning,
-A

Caribbean Shulamite said...

Thank you for sharing...

MessickMom said...

Pastor, I cry with you. Reading your comments stir me so deeply. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it was to go through Tammy's things. And, then to give them away is so difficult and meaningful all at the same time. I know God gave you grace to be in "this" moment and to handle all the feelings that came with it. What a wonderful gift Tammy's things are to the women she loved.

Boy, I miss her.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Ed,

From all the ladies here at the Home of Grace I wish to thank you for your kind donation of Tammy's clothing. I know how hard this can be and I respect you and the courage you have shown in this time of great sorrow. Tammy and all her great work will never be forgotten and the women who will be able to start their new life with the help of her clothing will be surely blessed. I look forward to your message every Sunday and the strength that you have shown is truely an inspiration.
In God's Love,
Ashley Garris
Home of Grace for Women

The Lockwood Fam said...

Hey Pastor... We love you!

Anonymous said...

Ed,
Both of my parents passed away in the last few years, and each time I took their clothing to the Gospel Rescue Mission here in Tucson. They had a heart for the mission and as I grew up, I attended services there each month with members from our church. The testimonies of changed lives were so touching and they made a lasting impression on my heart. The Lord blessed me with wonderful, caring parents and everything they owned belonged to Him, so it seemed only fitting to give the clothes for His use through the mission. Although difficult to part with them, I had that settled feeling you spoke about and knew I had a nod of approval from the Lord and my parents. Thank you for sharing your heart through your blogs.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Ed, My brother and sister in law attend your church. I have never known my brother to be as sincerely involved as he is now. Your pain/sorrow have moved him deeply and, after reading your Blog,I understand why he has such a deep love and admiration for you.
I pray that God will continue to help you in this time of sorrow/loss. I heard a song once that said,"When you can't trace His hand, trust His heart." In my life and in a huge loss I experienced (5 yrs. ago this Dec.), even those words didn't comfort me. Nothing I'd ever taught anyone else comforted me. I was angry for a long, long time. Finally, I knew that I could not live without the Lord and I began to repent and open up anew to prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship; learning that one cannot heal in isolation. Little by little, He is putting the pieces of my heart back together, again. I even experience joy more than sorrow. One last note. My brother very recently heard me telling of remnants of sorrow and he said he would pray for me with his group of men the next a.m. On that day, on my return from Mobile to my FL home, a miracle took place. I let go of bitterness and opened my heart once again to love fully. Thank you for teaching men to disciple men. God only knows how much this world needs that. Thank you. D.W. from FL

Loretta said...

Thank you for sharing your journey through grief. I lost a son last spring and it has been a comfort to see how you are turning your pain into a blessing for others. God Bless you and lighten your heart today as your strength has lifted me.

carolyn white said...

Hi Ed,
I had a similar experience several years ago and handled it much as you did. God's grace, always sufficient for our need, comes just at the right moment. God bless you on your journey. carolyn white

rachel said...

Dear Ed,

I can certainly relate to your loss of Tammy and who she was in the Lord. As you know, I lost your Uncle Charles in August this year. I struggle with looking at his things with mixed emotions knowing the time will come when I am ready to dispose of them. The thought of it is overwhelming! I had prayed for him for 40 years and saw him accept Christ three days before he passed. His clothes represent so much of our shared lives and de votion to each other. I fully understand your pain and love you and your family so much!
Your Aunt Rachel

Anonymous said...

I love you so much.

Anonymous said...

Your words of grief stir my heart- my closet still holds "pieces" of my loved ones gone: the dress at 15 I wore to daddy's funeral; my Papaw's grey suit; my great grandma's frilly slip.
These, vestiges of people are simple remainders of the great love I carried for them.
I feel for you and I cry for you.
The house of God is filled with people who love and care for you.
Praying that you recieve peace this day-

Anonymous said...

I am a proud member of the "Growing With Grace" S.S. class. We shared many wonderful Sunday mornings with Tammy. She had such a heart for the beautiful women of the Home of Grace. We were reminded often that we are all the same in so many ways. I love you for your generous donation of her clothes....she would be proud. Love you Pastor, Jan

Travis, Jan, Preston, Lyndsey and Lydia Scoper said...

Tammy is missed and loved. Thank you for ministering to me through your words and your life! We miss your sermons, and I'm so glad I can read your blogs!

Jan