How My Suitcase Changed the Way I Think

The sand was pristine. The water crystal blue. The sun warm and inviting. And the breeze danced through the leaves of the palm branches with whispers from heaven. It could have been on a postcard.

It was my happy place.

I recently took a cruise with my family to the Western Caribbean with ports of call in Labadee, Haiti and Ochos Rio, Jamaica. I had been looking forward to it for months. It’s no secret that I despise cold weather and it was perfectly timed after a long harsh Winter. I couldn’t wait to go.

The airline we travelled with required that we pay for our luggage. I was irritated by that because who takes a trip without a suitcase? It just seemed like a way to take advantage of those fortunate enough to travel. So I tried to find ways to minimize our baggage. Then I was irritated that my family didn’t have enough space in just two suitcases for our week-long trip and I would end up paying for another suitcase to haul all our stuff.

Fine. Whatever. It was a small price to pay to have enough room for all my shoes to match all my cute dresses. Besides, did I mention the pristine beach calling my name? I was at a point where I would have paid almost anything for time on the beach.

After a long day of travelling and dragging my heavy suitcase behind me, I was so glad to finally be on the ship. Our vacation had begun! We spent two days lounging by the pool, eating too much, and being entertained by world class performers before we even made it to the beach.

Oh…but it was so worth the wait! The temperature of the water was perfect! And it wasn’t crowded. My children played happily at my feet all day. Together. Without squabbling. At all.

That in itself was worth the trip!

My cares melted away and seemed to be tossed among the waves. Ahhh….

Haiti

And then I noticed something. Can you see it too? There on the hillside across the bay. Several tiny little structures clinging to the side of the hill. Those are houses. Houses where the rich people of the island live. You know, the ones who have running water. Truly. Those are the elite of the island. Those tiny shacks of a home are considered the place to live because they have running water. I am unsure if they have electricity.

Suddenly paying a small fee to haul my family’s 6 suitcases full of shoes, dresses, jewelry, snorkel gear, books, hair product, plush beach towels, kindles (three of them!), cell phone chargers, perfume, soap, night gowns, formal wear…suddenly all of it made me feel very small and very humble.

Haiti, according to my daughter, is the 2nd poorest country in the world behind Ethiopia. Ethiopia! Isn’t that the place where images of starving children that haunt my mind come from? And here I was enjoying a BBQ buffet with iced lemonade in the lap of it’s first cousin.

I gained perspective from this picture. I gained humility and a better appreciation for the things I have been blessed with. My home not only has running water, but electricity and insulation. We have 2 steady incomes and healthy children. We have 2 cars that we own outright and a company vehicle. I am sure that those people living in a small house on a hill in Haiti would look at my life and wish for a small fraction of my possessions.

Or, maybe not. Maybe my family’s 6 suitcases seems as ridiculous to them as it really is.

 

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My Thoughts on Spring

Robin on a branchIt was 75 degrees today! I have waited for this day for what has seemed like decades!  It has been forever since I have felt the energy of new life! I sat outside on my front porch in my rocking chair, reading a new book, helping my daughter with her homework and chatting with forgotten neighbors who had just emerged from their winter dens. I basked in the warmth of the sun, welcomed the warm breeze and tasted the very first drops of  Spring’s sweet nectar. It seemed like a dream. And it might as well have been since behind the warmth was a winter storm warning.

Seriously? Schools and local businesses are closed tomorrow because of the threat of ice, but my children are running around in shorts and flip flops! If I had the means and the time I would have been making ice cream!

The anticipation of tomorrow made me anxious. I was frustrated that I would only get an hour or so to enjoy it before plunging back in to the winter abyss. I felt like I was being teased and taunted. I wanted it to last so much longer than one afternoon.  I started thinking that I might be better off without having that moment at all. I mean, it wasn’t going to last. Why even bother?

I noticed a robin had come to visit a tree in my front yard. It seemed so happy singing and diving in my tree. Obviously he hadn’t checked his weather app!

“Poor bird,” I thought. “He has no idea what’s coming. Stupid thing.”

And then I was suddenly jealous of a bird! I was suddenly jealous of it’s natural ability not to worry about tomorrow and wholeheartedly enjoy the moment it had been given. Suddenly, I was the one who felt stupid. My friend the robin has no social network account, no Google app, or weather alert on a smartphone. It doesn’t care that schools are closed. And it’s not worried about all the work it will need to make up once his office reopens. He was simply enjoying the time the creator had given him right then.

And so then I thought, “Poor me. I wish I had no idea what was coming!”

 So, don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34

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When Blessings Become Junk

Empty Space2

Junk rooms. We all have one. You know, the one room in your house where you store the stuff that you will use one day. Or maybe, if you’re like me, it’s stuff you have already used and you might need it again. Maybe. It’s sentimental. It means something. You felt good when you were using it. Throwing it out would be like trashing your memories and all the blessings that came along with them.

This weekend I decided that I would clean out a room in my home where I had stored nearly a decade of teaching supplies. I had a pretty extensive library of children’s books that were just sitting there.  Stories held captive within the pages. I had read all of them. Some of them dozens of times. I got so much joy from the children’s reactions to them. I loved the way they made me feel when I read them, like I was making a difference.

I never thought I would move on from teaching. I loved it. It was me. As much as I enjoyed it, it wasn’t what I had dreamed of doing all my life. Growing up, I wanted to work in journalism. I enjoyed writing and never once considered becoming a preschool teacher.

But God is pretty peculiar with my plans. My desires, many times, are not at all what God has planned for me. And while I am learning to let Him dream for me, I am still pretty stubborn. Maybe you are lucky enough to have it all together, but I don’t always know what I need.  I tend to forget He knows what’s best and hold on to the stuff that feels good. The stuff that’s comfortable and that I know well. The stuff that once brought me great joy. Even if they are yesterday’s blessings and no longer fulfilling I have a hard time letting go. I don’t need two bookcases filled with children’s books anymore. My kids are passed them and I am no longer serving in a classroom. 

Keeping things hidden on a shelf does nothing except harbor anxiety within myself. Doing that transforms God’s blessings into something He never intended for me.

Junk.

It is a great challenge to let go of something that I know was a gift from God. This could be a job, a volunteer position, even a relationship. If He gave it, that must mean He wants me to always have it. Right? Cleaning out something that I find precious in order to trust that God has something even better? That seems ridiculous. That seems way too hard and a whole lot scary.

So, I was sitting there amidst the cloud of books and memories when I began to tear up a little. It was painful to pack it all up. What if God called me to teach again? I never know what He’ll ask me to do next. I should stay prepared, right? If He asks me to teach again I would need all this stuff.

That’s when it occurred to me that God has never asked me to do anything without giving me the tools to do it. There has never been a time when I have been obedient to answer His call on my life when he didn’t equip me properly. When I have truly been in His will, everything I have ever needed has been laid at my feet like manna ready for me to pick up and carry. His blessings are always perfect.

I needed two bookshelves filled with children’s literature in the past. But it’s useless to what I am doing with my life today. God gave me everything I needed then. Why would I doubt that He’s going to give me everything I need today? Why should I have any reason to question that when He asks me to do something in the future, He won’t give me  exactly what I need at just the right moment?

When I allowed the dust to settle on that truth, it was much easier for me to call upon a friend who could use my books. The thought of her using them to teach her children gives me great joy. It makes me feel like I am making a difference.

And all I had to do was clean out my junk room.

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