The boxes were small and square with colors varying from red to green to a very light shade of pink. Her favorite was gold, and the latch was broken from opening and shutting it so often.
She kept the boxes in the bottom drawer of her dresser, and on days where the tears were too many for her heart, when a lonely ache settled in her from head to toe, she opened the drawer and chose one from the dozen.
There were other boxes too. Ones she tried not to keep, but they wouldn’t seem to go away. Here and there, they were tucked around her room. One held down a stack of paper, three propped up the corner of her sagging ottoman, and others cluttered up the windowsill like faded plant stands.
She tried throwing them out, but there always seemed to be more, so she did her best to keep them busy and useful so she was never tempted to open them. They were as much a part of her life as the treasured boxes, but if she could ignore them, she would.
The last time she’d given in had not gone well. She had opened every single box in one evening and the contents tore into her soul. It took several of her most treasured gifts to make her feel better.
As the years passed, the little drawer gained a few more boxes. One was silver, a gift from a boy who made her feel very special once. Another was pink and white striped from her best friend, and three others followed that matched it.
When she changed houses, she moved all the good boxes with her and left the others behind, jumbled in a pile of dust and ready to move on. One of the boxes from a friend stayed behind with them, the good gift turned sour from a bad friendship end.
She decided in her new room, her new life, there was going to be a change. The precious boxes were going to be on display, where she could see them every day and be reminded of their contents without risking wearing them out with opening and closing. She needed their constant encouragement to be brave, to know she was loved, and to get somewhere in life.
She set them up in a perfect row across the back of her desk, then laid back on her dorm bed and ran through their contents with her eyes.
The gold one was from Grandmumma on her fifth birthday. “Well, aren’t you just the sweetest little thing today?” Grandmumma’s accent would warm her heart every time she let the words out to visit them.
The green ones, a card on Christmas, a compliment from a stranger, and the deep red one was a congratulatory speech on winning an essay contest. The sky blue ones, from Mom and Dad, near in shade to a few she had left at home, ranged from “I love you” to “I’m so proud of you” to “I see you and I hear you”. She had kept every one.
The striped boxes, down one from their original number, were twinged with the bittersweet knowledge that maybe her friend didn’t mean them anymore, but she kept them anyway. The same with the one from the boy.
Her new life began, and it was busier and fuller than anything she had ever imagined before. She barely needed to open the boxes those first few weeks, but the number of dingy gray, accusing red, and gloomy black boxes cluttering her floor and windowsill began to grow almost without her noticing it.
She tripped over one on a particularly exhausting day and slammed her knee on the end of her bed. Tears that had been wanting to burst out all day took their opportunity, and she sank down onto the floor. For the first time since she had moved, she saw just how many boxes there were and something told her to open them. Open them all.
“Imposter.” “You’re going to fail this test.” “Ew, that outfit does not match at all.” “Some people are just too sensitive.” “Sorry, I just don’t think we’re right for each other.” “If you’re ever going to accomplish anything, you have to just grow up.” “You’re not a very good friend.”
The boxes with her voice hurt the most, but she had to hear them. She searched through the room, finding the ones hidden in her closet corners, two under a pile of clothes on the chair, one inside the left shoe of a pair she’d bought for a date that was canceled.
The boxes piled up around her, and she buried her face in her hands, letting the tears flow. The last time this had happened, she’d wiped her eyes, cuddled up on her bed, and opened the drawer full of delicious reminders that she was very loved.
It had been enough.
But as she looked up at the little army of boxes lining the back of her desk, she knew it wouldn’t work this time. There simply weren’t enough good words to combat the bad ones. She decided to do the only thing she knew how.
Spreading out an old blue blanket, she piled the boxes, some half open and half empty, into the middle and tied the corners tight around them. Then she shoved it into the back of her closet. Tomorrow she would take them to the campus dumpster and have another fresh start. Tonight at least she couldn’t see them.
Sleep washed away her tears, and she began her day with only the bruise on her leg to remind her anything had happened. Months passed without her thinking of the lumpy bundle and kicking new boxes without a second thought under the bed.
She met a new friend who was also a boy. His “I love you” was the most beautiful box of them all. She slipped it under her pillow and stared at it in the starlight every night before she drifted to sleep.
Time passed and her house changed again, this time to one she shared with the sweet boy she married. The beautiful boxes were stacked on a shelf, and the others were added to the blue bundle and tucked into the corner of the garage.
The collection of precious boxes began to grow faster than ever before. It seemed like every day she added at least one, maybe two to the precious little hoard. The boy seemed to shower her with all the boxes her heart had ever craved, and she was learning to give them to herself. She had even rediscovered a book full of them straight from the heart of God.
One day the boy gave her her first dingy box, and she added two more herself. She disappeared into their room to hide them away, but he followed to apologize and saw them for the first time.
His words were so humble, so tender, and filled with such love that she dropped the boxes to catch his words in a new one she knew she could revisit whenever she needed.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m keeping your words.” It was strange that he had asked but even stranger that she’d assumed it was something everyone did until this moment.
“I need them. For when I don’t have enough. For when I need to be reminded of how loved I am. And the others are just an accident.”
He shook his head and pulled her into a hug. “You don’t have to hoard these anymore. There will always be more.”
The tears filled her eyes, and she dropped the box on the floor with the others to lean into his hug.
In the days that followed, she learned to catch less and less. Letting them bounce freely around the room and her heart, trusting there would be more. She even opened the boxes on the desk, freeing the tattered memories and kissing Grandmumma goodbye.
The dark ones couldn’t matter anymore either. If she never caught them, they flitted away, no longer supporting her life or weighing her down.
Now she was free.
I hope this story spoke to your heart in some way, and I pray you learn to speak good words to yourself and trust them from those who love you most. 💙