Monday, April 6, 2015

Traveling Light

Five apartments, nine houses, and five dorm rooms:  the cumulative totals of earthly dwellings between my husband and I. Dave and I have moved a bit in our lives. We have ministry and military friends who have moved more. We have friends who have shipped belongings over the oceans more than once. In these moves, these transitions, we have learned many life lessons. We share these similarities with our fellow movers and shakers and often laugh and cry over the burn of learning them.

We've learned that love lives and grows even across miles.
We've learned to sort, sell, toss, and separate emotion from the inanimate.  
We've learned the art of wisely choosing new friends, while hanging on to those left behind.
We hate the necessity of garage sales.
We carry a deep gratitude for Facebook, texting, and email.

Of all these life lessons one lesson my family has cherished is to travel light. We know that lasting joy comes from moments and people, never things.

I remember the moment during our first youth ministry when we discovered that a fifteen passenger van full of teenagers had rolled while pulling a trailer full of luggage behind. I remember the heartache when we learned a teen had passed away in that accident. All we could think of was the youth minister that had to carry the pain and guilt of this nightmare for the rest of his life. What did he say to the parents? How did he address his church? What would we do in the same situation? 

That moment was the moment the backpack rule was born, a rule created out of fear, a reactionary new standard. The backpack rule means that on every youth trip each teen is only allowed a backpack for the entire trip as their luggage. They each carry their own pack. They pack light and tight. 

Our first youth ministry took to the backpack rule easily. I feel the primary reason for that is the Northwest culture we enjoyed in Portland, Oregon. God bless the Northwestern folk who know the joy of living simple and green!

The joy that has come out of this rule is hearing from students now, five, ten, and fifteen years later, who still employ the backpack rule as adults and in their families. I remember a sweet teen girl who carried a hairspray can the size of a nuclear bomb. My husband joked with her that he could fit one of our sons in her purse. She, now as a college student, packs in a backpack for short trips. Mission accomplished. Lesson learned.

Our family adheres to the backpack rule on vacations, and I can't tell you the simplicity of getting in and out of a hotel room when every kid carries their own stuff, and mom and dad are not burdened with or expected to lug five suitcases around. Not to mention the rewards of training a child that they need very little in life to be happy and content, and this usually doesn't include a DS or an I Pad.

When you employ the backpack rule, you separate necessity from waste. You learn what you truly need to live, and I promise you, it is very little. 

Fifteen years later the backpack rule has grown into a spiritual discipline for our family. In my husband's youth ministries, he still expects that students adhere to this rule. Sadly, the most difficult audience to convince is often the parents. My word of warning as I approach my 40th year on earth: there is a real danger in falling into the trap of justified materialism. Unless you practice daily reminders of what truly is important in life (and it isn't found in a new bag, boots, or bottle), you forget that you need little to survive and you start to "require" more creature comforts. Justified materialism believes that God loves us and blesses us with things, so it is OK to own a LOT of things. God does indeed bless us, but only so we can bless others not so we can accumulate objects.

Friends, if there is one thing scripture teaches strongly and clearly, it is warning after warning of the love of money and the dangers of materialism. Jesus asked the rich young man to walk away from his belongings and give them to the poor (Matthew 10:21-22). Could you? Would you walk away from your home for the sake of someone else? How sad that we struggle with giving up a large suitcase for a backpack for a weekend trip!

We all brought nothing into this world, and while the people of earth may measure us by our things, God is wondering what we will do with it all. Will you use what you have to serve you or others? Are your things owning you and disallowing you from living simply and focused on the Maker of heaven and earth? Are we teaching our kids to be reliant on the right outfit or are we clothing them in acts of generosity, good stewardship, hospitality, and kindness? Are we heading out to serve the poor carrying more in our suitcase than they will ever own?

Perhaps those of us who have had to box up everything we own are truly blessed. We are gifted with a special message that's loud and clear. The important things in life don't get packed in a box.

May God continue to help us let go of what our hearts think we need temporarily, so we can firmly grasp on to the provider of what is eternal.

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