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My list-keeping compulsion

Essay

On May 18, 2003, I was 12, and I had just read the last page of a book. You know what that feels like. You get excited because you made it all the way. You get sad because the book ended. You finish, you sit back, you think.

I sat back. I thought. I took out my green gel pen—in vogue, at that time—and wrote this:

“I have just finished the book A Heart Strangely Warmed, about John Wesley and the starts of the Methodist and Wesleyan churches. I learned one very valuable lesson from John Wesley’s mother.”

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Last night I found that gel-penned sheet of paper buried deep in my closet inside a bag of lists. Lists, lists, lists. Daily lists of what I did and what I intended to do. I kept those lists for the later inspection of Older Me. Their quantity proved I took deeply to heart Mrs. Wesley’s lesson: It is foolish to waste time.

The book said Mrs. Wesley kept a journal of how she spent every moment of her days. Twelve-year-old Chelsea, prone to martyrdom and seared instantly with a list-keeping compulsion, endeavored to do the same. At the bottom of the page I had copied a line from the movie Gone with the Wind: “Do not squander time. That is the stuff life is made of.”

Just finding that bag of lists in my bedroom delivered a dose of nostalgia that smelled delicious and kicked me in the nose as it departed. A girl’s bedroom, the place she grew up, is a space almost as sacred as her heart. It holds her blankets, scarves, clothes, original paintings, books, written prayers, and lists. It contains the small things only she could have collected. Like her heart, she could not use words to convey to you what her bedroom really means. And when girls get married, they have to say goodbye to their bedrooms. A brief grief is appropriate.

This morning the family laughed at my 12-year-old lists over the breakfast table:

Sleep in as late as you want.
Get dressed. Walk around a little so people know you’re awake.
Read Bible and write in notebook.
Clean room.
Do health homework.
Switch laundry.
Clean bathroom.
Memorize all the verses.
Paint toenails.
(Now it is 9:27 p.m.).

Apparently in my youth my highest ambitions were to read large portions of the Bible, do my homework, and manage to paint my toenails in the same day. I kept the list habit up for some time. As I shoved into the teenage years, I started writing “Rise at 11 a.m.,” and reminded myself on the back of a banking envelope to take the SAT.

Since the new year hit I catch myself rehearsing another list. Last year’s. In 2013 I graduated from college, bought my first car, got my first salaried job, got sick, took my first antidepressant, got better, got engaged, got a column in my local paper, planned half a wedding, and started to say good-bye to my bedroom. In 2013 I began to stare into a new year with a whole new set of possibilities, responsibilities, and unknowns. I started to contemplate my new mission: marriage.

On the lists I kept as a kid, I always planned more than I could conquer. Last year, I conquered more than I had planned. So I push—or get pushed, I’m not sure—into a new season. I have to swap out the old joys. As my mother says, there is never, never, never enough of a good thing.

Chelsea Kolz Boes
Chelsea Kolz Boes

Chelsea is an editorial assistant for God’s World News. She graduated from Patrick Henry College with a degree in literature. Follow Chelsea on Twitter @chelseakboes.

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