packing

My plan was to stay for six months.

Until that moment, I had never before packed my life into two suitcases. What a chore it was to decide which of my possessions would be deemed worthy of viewing the sights of Cape Town.

I remember laying out the candidates on the carpet of my bedroom floor, agonizing over which items would make the cut. Should I take that framed picture? What about that sweater? Will I want to read that book while I’m there? What about that necklace? What if it gets stolen, or lost? I pored over the decision, then jumped and stomped and laid on my luggage trying to get its bulging sides to zip closed.

Back then, I was allowed to have two bags, and the weight allowance was fifty pounds per bag. That’s 100 pounds of stuff. Forty-five kilograms of stuff that I was convinced I couldn’t live without for 180 consecutive days.

Stuff I hoped would remind me of home.

4062409834_ac25f58352_zIt’s embarrassing now, looking back and realizing my own ignorance and wealth in comparison to so many in the world. I met people in South Africa who don’t even have enough cumulative possessions to fill one suitcase, let alone two. And there I was, on numerous occasions over the next decade, emotionally torn over having to bid farewell to certain sentimental belongings.

My insides ached the day I watched two elderly volunteers lock up the back of a local charity truck, the contents of which housed the last of my mother’s earthly possessions. I watched the loaded truck drive away with part of me. So many memories wrapped up in those curtains that traveled with us from house to house; that blue leather couch, all scratched up by the cats’ claws, where I’d doze off during almost every movie that ever played on the huge, box television screen. Belongings that defined home for so many years — a closed chapter, never to be repeated.

But, as they say, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-haul, right?

A while back I watched the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Two hours of my life wasted and gone forever.

But there were a few lines worth quoting, one of which I myself have uttered in the past six months.

The main character, Liz Gilbert, decides to spend a year traveling to Italy, India and Bali. Before she leaves, she boxes up all of her worldly possessions and packs them into a rented storage unit. As the employee is about to close the garage door, Liz sighs and says forlornly, “My whole life fits into a 12×12 box.”

The mover rolls his eyes and says condescendingly, “Lady? You know how many times I hear people say that in a week? And most of ’em don’t come back for their ‘whole life.'”

I can totally relate.  I get so sentimentally attached, and need to remember what Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When my kids are upset over a broken toy, a ripped drawing, or a lost book, I try to show my sympathy while still reminding them of the bigger picture.  After all, we can’t take it to heaven, can we?

It’s a lesson I’m still cementing in the wet foundation of my faith. The familiar hymn, Rock of Ages, helps: “Nothing in my hands I bring; only to thy cross I cling.”

In his book, In Light of Eternity, Randy Alcorn gives a helpful perspective:

“Christ calls us to turn it around. He says to store up our treasures in heaven, not earth. That way, every day that brings us closer to our death brings us closer to our treasures. Instead of backing away from our treasures, we can spend our lives moving toward our treasures.

He who spends his life moving away from his treasures has reason to despair. He who spends his life moving toward his treasures has reason to rejoice.”

Which one are you?  The one moving toward, or away from your treasures?

Particularly in times of preparation for a move or a stint overseas, it’s easy to cling to our treasured possessions here on earth.  In times like those, I’ve found this quote by E.M. Bounds to be very thought-provoking:

“Great earthly attachments lessen heavenly attachments. The heart which indulges itself in great earthly loves will have less for heaven. God’s great work and often His most afflictive and chastening work is to unfasten our hearts from earth and fasten them to heaven, to break up and desolate the earthly home that we may seek a home in heaven.”

Before my initial move to South Africa, as I agonized over which items would make the cut and earn space in my suitcase, I was most concerned about things that would remind me of home. 

May the Lord change my perspective and help me care most about looking forward to my eternal Home.

Linking up today with Velvet Ashes, a community for women serving overseas.  This week’s theme is “Pack.”  Read more over here.

Photo Credit: Kristen Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons

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when you don’t want to go home

A month ago at this time, I was breathing in the intoxicating grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.

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We were in Vail, Colorado for a family wedding, and it was pure bliss.  The weekend was spent hiking, dining and dancing the night away, and passed altogether too quickly.

When it was time to say goodbye, we all felt like this:

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We didn’t want to go home.

In fact, I could’ve stayed there forever, in spite of the waves of altitude sickness that assaulted all of us at some point, irrespective of age or gender.

I was reminded of my daughter, a year and a half earlier, who had been sledding for the first time.

On one of the first occasions that my African-born children ever experienced the exhilarating rush of a sledding hill, my seven-year-old daughter let the adrenaline get to her head.  In a moment of boldness, she dove headfirst onto her circular plastic disc, soared down the snow-covered hill, and biffed, chin skidding across the ice.  A howl could be heard from the bottom of the hill to the top, and the best I could do was to dab her bloody chin with a used tissue.  Over the decibels of her wailing, I asked, “Do you want to go home?”

“Nooo!” she exclaimed adamantly between sobs.

Of course she didn’t want to go home.  Why would she?

In comparison to a perfect (albeit slightly bloodied) sledding hill, home was a dull and boring second-class pick.

If you’re a parent, it’s quite likely that when you’ve gone to pick up your kids from a playdate at a friend’s house, you’ve been welcomed with the infamous whine:  “I don’t wanna go home!”

I was throwing that same internal tantrum when it was time to leave Vail.

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Often, even with bloody chins from sledding hills or sudden nausea from the altitude of the mountains, we would rather stay in the places we’re having fun than to go back home to the daily grind of the normal routine.

And if we’re honest, don’t we sometimes have the same view of heaven, in comparison to the pleasures on earth?

In his book, The Glory of Heaven, John MacArthur writes this:

“I have actually heard Christians say they don’t want to go to heaven until they’ve enjoyed all that the world can deliver.  When all earthly pursuits are exhausted, or when age and sickness hamper their enjoyment, then they believe they’ll be ready for heaven.  ‘Please God, don’t take me to heaven yet,’ they pray.  ‘I haven’t even been to Hawaii!’”

Maybe for you it’s not Hawaii, but there’s likely something on earth that is tempting each of us to stay behind.

Maybe your view of heaven is tainted, and, like Matt Chandler once believed, you think heaven is going to be dull and boring after a while.

In his book, The Explicit Gospel, Chandler recalls his former feelings toward this verse of the song, Amazing Grace:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Chandler admits,

“The picture painted by this great hymn is of an eternal session of praise music.  I remember being a bit mortified by this idea after my conversion.  Although I loved the Lord, the concept of just singing to the Lord for trillions of years was more than my mind could fathom.  I thought, ‘Surely we’d get bored with that.’  Even the most amazing things on earth get a little boring after a while.  So how is it that billions of trillions of years from now, I’m still going to be plucking my harp, sitting on my cloud in perfect contentment?  … The image is conjured of robe-wearing, harp-playing, eternal song-singing Tom and Jerry heaven.  Is that really what heaven will be like?”

If you’ve trusted in Christ for your salvation, then there is a home waiting for you in glory.  Jesus himself promised that he has gone ahead to prepare a place for you.

As Christians, are we living as though we’re excited about spending eternity with our Lord?

Or are we pouting and dragging our feet, wishing we didn’t have to leave all that we enjoy here on earth?

Don’t get me wrong .. There is astounding beauty to be found here, and God put it here for our enjoyment.

But it’s temporary.

Not only is it temporary, but it’s only a shadow of things to come.  Even the best sledding hill and the most breathtaking mountain range on earth don’t compare to the glory that will be found in heaven for those who love Him.

So let me ask you this:

When the time comes for the Father to call you Home, how will you respond?

 

 

 

 

dig deep, my girl

She wrapped her four-year-old fingers around the newly acquired piece of candy as if it were more precious than gold.  Her fist tightly clasped, she could barely contain her glee as she skipped around the church parking lot clutching her prized possession.

A while later, I noticed that her hands were empty.

“Where’s your sweet?” I asked.

“Oh, I planted it over there,” she explained nonchalantly, “so it will grow into a tree full of sweets.”

And I smiled with maternal pride, because she got it.  She understood already that what you put in is what you get out.

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So dig deep, my girl.

Find the richest of soil, and dig deep.

Plant your treasure where the rain falls gently all around, and when the plant springs up, may it be strong and confident like the sunflower, with its face always turned bright toward the sun. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also ..

So take what is precious and bury it where it will reap an eternal harvest, and you will have not only a tree, but fields ripe and plentiful.

And you will blossom and bloom in the Light  ..

 

It’s Five-Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo Baker’s, and this week’s prompt is BLOOM.

 

willing to serve

A few weeks ago, my daughter landed her first summer job.

She’s not even nine years old.

A mom in our church asked if our eight-going-on-sixteen-year-old would be available to act as a mother’s helper for an hour a week.  She basically just needed someone to go along to the library to keep her one-year-old from pulling all the books off the shelves while she looked for books to check out with her three-year-old.

This generous mom even offered to pay our daughter for her services.  After chatting with my husband, we decided our girlie could go ahead and help, but we asked the mom to rather not pay her for her work.

Here’s why.

We want to instill in our kids a heart to serve.  

We want them to be willing and eager to use their gifts first and foremost to the glory of God, without the motivation for money.

Yes, it’s good and right for a worker to be compensated for his labor, and fair wages are important and necessary.

But we don’t want our kids to develop the mindset that the world owes them something.  

And goodness, that attitude can spring up from the ground faster than weeds.  I once made the mistake of telling my kids I would pay them each a quarter if they picked up all the sticks in the backyard.  It was a big job, and it took a long time.  They did it well, and I gave them the money I had promised.

It was the first time I had ever offered to pay them for doing a chore.  And you know what happened?  After just one occurrence, they immediately expected money the next time.  They started to ask, “If we do this, will you give us a quarter?  If I do that for you, will you pay me for it?”

We do give them a (minimal) monthly allowance, but the primary purpose of that is to teach them how to budget, save and tithe.  The understanding with the allowance has never been, “We’re giving you this money for all the ways you helped out around the house this past month.”  

Our motto is that we should all be “happy to serve,” even when you’re not the one who left the puzzle pieces strewn across the floor, even if it’s not your candy wrapper on the table, even if you didn’t spill the cereal in the kitchen.  

My goal and desire is that when my kids do grow up and start earning wages for their work, that they will still have the underlying principle of being eager to serve, to the glory of the One who “came not to be served, but to serve.”

This post was written for The High Calling, in response to the theme, “Working for Free.”  Do you have a “Working for Free” story?  Share it here by July 12th.  

losing home and finding it

Twelve years ago today, on the 2nd of July 2002, I left home.

Not in the rebellious, “I’m-never-coming-back” way, but in the “I’m spending a semester overseas” way.

With the ten-hour layover spent dragging my bags up and down the Frankfurt airport terminal and the seven-hour time difference, it would be two days later before I reached Cape Town, South Africa.

There would be no 4th of July fireworks in that country, except those felt in my chest as I exploded with giddy college-girl excitement and fell in love at first sight with the aerial view of the city that, unbeknownst to me, would become my home for the next ten years.

And somewhere between being sprawled out across multiple airport chairs in Germany, subconsciously drooling on my bag, and then consciously drooling over the breathtaking beauty of The Mother City several flight hours later, He did it.

The Lord took my neatly packaged definition of home, crumpled it up, and tossed it into the southeaster, never to be seen again.

Through ten moves in those next ten years, the Lord would peel back my layered notions, and would slowly and persistently teach me about home.  I would long for it, grieve the loss of it, grasp at it, cry over it, watch it slip between my fingers … all to realize that, as Augustine so wisely declared, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

And that’s the secret.  We might grieve over home as though it can be lost, but we just haven’t found it yet.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:1

 

Check out Emily Wierenga’s new travel memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.

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letter to a new bride

Dear newly married bride,

You probably don’t remember me.  I was behind you in line at the County Clerk’s office the day you picked up your marriage license.  I sat in the row of chairs against the wall of windows that let the June sunshine filter in, my three kids sandwiched between my husband and me.  You heard that I was there for passport applications, and you kindly turned around to point out the paperwork on the counter.  My husband asked if you were also applying for a passport, to which you cheerfully replied, “Nope!  Marriage license.”

We later overheard that you would be getting married the very next day.

The picture made sense, you standing there with your fresh french pedicure and flip-flops, your long blonde ponytail tied back loosely with a turquoise band.  You looked healthy and radiant, and ready to get married.

I mentally calculated the date, and it was then that it struck me.

Exactly ten years ago to the very week, I stood at the same clerk’s window, picking up the very same document.

Our marriage license.

I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “Do you think I should tell her that in exactly ten years, she’ll be looking like this?”  My arm swept over the heads of our three kids, and my husband smiled and let out a silent laugh.

I wanted to tell you then and there that you might be sitting in that same chair ten years from now, telling your nine-year-old not to throw frisbees indoors, and asking your seven-year-old where his shoes are.

Your nails will likely be chipped and softened by then, from countless sinks full of dish soap and bathtubs of bubbly water and squirmy, muddy kids.

Your eyes will still sparkle, but they’ll look more tired then, the dark circles under your eyes a near permanent feature.

 

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Now, your ring probably still feels awkward in its newness, and I bet you still drive with your left hand placed strategically on the steering wheel, staring at the sparkle as discreetly as possible while you drive.  A decade from now, you’ll still marvel at the sparkle when it catches the light, but it will have become a regular fixture, a tan line on your ring finger when you slide off the gold at night.

You will have broken your vows a thousand times, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But if you hold on to His promises, He will take those shards and glue them back together every morning into a colorful mosaic cemented in grace.

You can’t possibly know the scars or the joys that will be etched upon your heart these next ten years.  You might face pain and trials like you’ve never experienced before.  Anything could happen, and everything could change — everything but this:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Cling to that truth, and you’ll be just fine.

 

Related Posts: My Top Four Books on Marriage & Team Us: Marriage Together

 

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Photo Credit: Tela Chhe, Flickr Creative Commons