The Tyranny of Things

“The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are…no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things.” ~A.W. Tozer

Most of you who will read this blog post will know that our family just got home from almost 3 months of travel, up and down the East coast and then in California. We spoke at 13 different churches, presbyteries, or missions conferences, and attended a leadership training week in Atlanta. We now have 90% of our support raised and are on schedule to leave for Ethiopia in the middle of July. We saw Liz’s family and got to spend some time with them in preparation for our move. After living out of a car or our suitcases for so long, we’re glad to be back in the wonderful old farmhouse on our church property that has been home for the last year.

So how was it? Many people have asked how, exactly, we made it through several months of living out of a 5-passenger car as a 4-person family over 14 states. The short answer is that it was fine, minus the week of stomach flu and a few back-seat meltdowns. We are profoundly grateful to the friends who lent us their portable DVD player for Nathan. The stress of traveling was definitely worth the relationships with churches, supporters, friends, and family. One of the hardest things for me, however, was continually unpacking, relocating, repacking, loading, unloading, and reloading our stuff at homestays, motels, into and out of our car, in and out of airports, etc. We tried to pack lightly. It still felt like we were constantly managing luggage, laundry, and baby gear. Here is a picture of the contents of the back seat and trunk of our rental car after returning from our last pass through Balitmore. I still can’t believe it was all actually in there.

A large part of what I did on our trip was just try to manage the above belongings.  Did we remember to collect Nathan’s crayons? Where was Isaiah’s swaddle blanket?  And where, exactly, did we re-pack the shampoo and cell phone charger? We didn’t do all that well. Below is a list of the items we managed to leave behind:

Philadelphia
Sippy cup, Thomas Merton book
First time through Baltimore
Sock, some of Nathan’s books
Chattanooga
Toy Trains
Charlottesville
Baby Tylenol, bulb nose sucker
Harrisonburg
White noise machine
Second time through Baltimore
Swaddle blanket, fish toy
Cincinnati
Nathan’s Lamby, laptop computer
Brooklyn
Jason’s fleece

 

For those of you who actually read through the list, don’t worry- Nathan’s very important nighttime buddy “Lamby” and the laptop made it home (and actually, most of the other things did, too, thanks to the kindness of friends and the U.S. postal service.)

Even though we’re home now, I’m still swimming in stuff. We’ve started the process of dismantling our household. It’s not cost effective to ship a container or anything large to Ethiopia, so we need to give away, sell, or throw away most of our belongings. We are planning to take about 15 medium sized Rubbermaid storage bins as freight on the plane, and hoping to find a place to store a few boxes of special things. That’s it. Everything else has to go somewhere else.  I feel such a mix of emotions as I’m sorting. A sense of loss, over leaving behind special things kind people have given us, anxiety as I try to plan ahead for what clothing, books, and toys my children will need over the next two years of their development, fear that I will fail to take some essential thing, and a sense of freedom and liberation when I actually manage to finish a pile. I will be so relieved when we are packed and our house is empty. There is something freeing, purifying, and exhilarating about getting rid of things that have before consumed my time and attention. We want and need to “live simply” once we get to Ethiopia, and admit we have no idea about what that will actually look like.

One of my aunts, in a Christmas letter years ago, said she was thankful for “more worldly goods than I can keep clean and organized.” I have thought many times that I would like to have only as many worldly goods as I can keep clean and organized, and only what I really need. As we move to a place where many around us won’t have even their basic needs met, that will be all the more important.

I sometimes have moments of panic- when I realize that I’m more attached to my stuff than I realized, when I try to figure out what my life will be like materially in Ethiopia, or when I try to navigate a house “in transition” full of homeless objects.  During one of the rare quiet times I managed to sneak in during our road trip, I read this:

Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.

I know this passage is not talking about material stuff- the gains he is counting as loss are his pedigree, his education, his reputation, his external spirituality. However, it has ministered to me in this season of leaving, in what sometimes feels like “the loss of all things.” I wish I could say that just clearing stuff out of our house makes me know and love Christ more. What I can say is that I am thankful for someone to hope in whose love for me matters much more than the “stuff” of my life- whether here or in another country.  I sense that the act of moving will be a purifying process, and I’m trying to submit myself to it. I’ll let you know how it goes.         ~Liz

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