Part 1: Background and Preparations
On Sunday, March 30, 2014, I was at church. Pastor Eric got up before the morning message to make an announcement. He put up a woman's picture on the screen and told us that she had passed away due to lung cancer. She and her whole family (husband and four daughters, age 9-15) had attended Ellerslie previously. Ellerslie had sent a delegation, including Eric, to the funeral, and they had just gotten back from that. Eric described how he expected to go up there and find them weak, broken, and needing support and comfort, but what they found was smiling faces, strength, and the family looking for what they could do to support everyone else. He said it was an amazing picture of grace. Ellerslie had raised some money to bring up to the family, but instead, the father was handing Eric money for Ellerslie, something that had been raised at a men’s conference. All in all, the family demonstrated amazing resilience in the face of their loss. Eric asked the father if there was anything Ellerslie could do to be the body and provide help and support, and he said, “Well, our girls have been homeschooled, and it would be a big help if we could get someone to come up and homeschool them through the rest of the school year.” Eric announced this need to the body.
I was listening to this story, and immediately, as he mentioned the need for a teacher, I felt a leaping up of response in my soul. “Maybe that could be me,” I thought. At the same time, my friend Bethany, who was sitting next to me, elbowed me in the ribs. So someone else thought it could be me, too. It was food for thought, at any rate.
Over the next couple of days, I thought very hard and prayed about whether I would make any initial move towards offering my services to this family. There were a lot of factors that I had to consider in order to count the cost. I was working at a job with a regular salary and benefits. I would have to quit my job. I had a certain amount of stuff. I would have to get rid of stuff or find a place to put it. Picking up and leaving was easier when my home base was my parents’ house, because I could just leave everything the way it was in my room, but that wouldn’t be fair to anyone here in Colorado, people who weren’t my family. I couldn’t just expect other people to store my stuff. There was also the factor of my goals. Over the past year, I had been working determinedly to save up the money to buy a house. I was tired of living a nomadic, unstable life. I had decided I wasn’t going to do that any more. In fact, I had turned down a very amazing-sounding trip to Vietnam for this very reason. I was going to settle in Colorado, buy a house, and live in it. I was going to live a normal life. I had gotten some kitchen and household items at yard sales, and I was looking forward to putting these things in my house and using them. I had gotten some cookware for Christmas, and I was excitedly anticipating getting my own place and using these items to cook delicious meals and show hospitality.
During those time, I listened to two different versions of Eric’s message, “Hero Training.” In this message, he teaches the meaning of the Greek word merimnao, which means worry, cares, or anxiety. The Bible teaches to take no thought for your life. Spend yourself for the weak, the vulnerable, the orphan, but do not spend an ounce of merimnao on yourself for your own issues (what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear). I realized that in a large measure, I had traded in the “no merimnao” life for the worldly life full of cares and worries. I had somehow allowed myself to enter into the rat race after successfully evading it for so long. I had fixed my eyes on house, food, and possessions, and little by little, this was choking me like the thorns choked the seed in the parable of the sower, causing it to become unfruitful. I wrote a blog post where I detailed the things that I was processing regarding rejecting merimnao, and I determined to reject the life of merimnao.
Two or three days after I heard Eric’s announcement, I made a call to give a simple expression of interest in the position. I also made initial inquiries to a number of different sources in order to determine whether there would be any obvious closed doors or insuperable obstacles. I talked to my parents. I talked to people around me. I had some volunteer commitments that I wanted to make sure I was not going to drop. I got an initial favorable reaction from all these sources.
The ball got rolling, slowly. I was in communication with Ellerslie, and Ellerslie was in communication with the family in Canada.
On Saturday, April 5, Ellerslie forwarded me an email from the father, explaining his vision for the position. From that email, I gathered that the dates they wanted someone to come were April 19 through June 28, I got a brief introduction to the girls, and I heard the heart of what they was looking for (someone to manage the house as well as handle the homeschooling). I emailed Ellerslie back that same day and told them I was getting an initial yes to all of it. In the email, I mentioned that the only thing that might be a slight glitch was that I was going on vacation from May 9-19, and I wondered if the family would be okay with me leaving for that.
On Thursday, April 10, I talked to Ellerslie and asked, “Is it for sure? Should I put in my notice?” They indicated that it was not nailed down yet, but I had the gut feeling that it was going to work out, so I started taking action and doing preparations to free myself up.
In taking action, I was deliberately giving up my dream of having a house. I was stepping over a line. I was dying to my love of stuff and purposely turning away from the pursuit of my own comfort, my own provision, my own future. I was placing myself back into the sphere of depending fully and exclusively on God for my future. I was following through with the logical consequences of my belief. If I was going to live for myself, then I was going to keep my stuff, make as much money as I could, and fight to defend my own interests. On the other hand, if the Lord was showing me that I was not to have a house and just continue to be a mobile agent in His kingdom, then the most logical thing to do would be to make myself as mobile as possible, letting go of the weight of possessions that tied me down.
This was the logic of my decision, and I acted on it, but the actual outworking of it was excruciating.
First I got rid of my books. That day (Thursday), I asked if Ellerslie would accept some books in the Ellerslie library, and they said they would. I immediately went home, loaded up my car with five boxes of my beloved Christian books, drove back to Ellerslie, and dropped them off. I loved my books. They were close to my heart. But I ruthlessly cut them off, didn’t allow myself to really look at them, shut my mind from thinking about whether or not I wanted them, gave them away, and didn’t look back. One thing that helped was that I said to myself, “I haven’t had access to my books for years anyway. They were at home in my bookshelves in Tennessee while I was overseas, and then they have been sitting in boxes ever since I have been here. They might as well be used and enjoyed by somebody. And anyway, I have already read almost all of them, and if I need to refer to them again, I can just go get them at Ellerslie.” Thus I was resigned to the departure of the books.
On Friday, April 11, I received an email from Ellerslie, stating that they had passed on my contact information to the family in Canada and that I would be hearing from them soon. I wanted to make initial contact with them right away to introduce myself and nail down a few of the details, but I felt I was supposed to wait on them to contact me first. So I waited.
On Saturday, April 12, I still had not heard from anyone. I got up and went to work, and I knew it was time to put in my notice, even though I had not heard from them. In order to make it up to Canada by the start date he was asking for, this was my last opportunity to put in my notice, and even still, it was only going to be a one-week notice. I couldn’t make it any shorter than that, knowing that we were already short-staffed at work. I went through the first hour of the morning with a pounding heart and a sense of tense anticipation, knowing I was going to have to talk to the manager to give her my notice, but not being able to work up the courage to do it. Finally I went to her office when she was not in there, took a piece of paper, and wrote down what I wanted to say. I explained that I was giving my 1-week notice and that my last day would be Friday, April 18. I left the paper on her desk. Then I watched to see when she would go in and find it. I knew it would be a devastating blow to her, because we had experienced so much turnover, and I really didn’t want to ruin her day. However, she took it pretty well and expressed positive affirmation for what I was going to do in Canada.
Now that I had put in my notice, I knew I needed to start taking drastic action if I was going to be able to get organized before my departure. I had a lot of stuff, both in my room and up in storage in the attic above the shop at the house where I was living.
On Sunday, April 13, I was talking with a friend in the evening, and I asked her about her upcoming wedding and if she was registered anywhere. I then asked if she might be able to use some kitchen stuff that I had. She said that might definitely be a blessing. I then asked her about my bedroom set, and she said she probably wouldn’t have room for that. Then it dawned on me that I had just been at the home of a family from church, and I had gone down to the basement for a tour, and I had noticed that there was no furniture in the basement bedroom, so I thought I might contact them regarding my bedroom set. I emailed them and that ended up working out perfectly.
On Monday, April 14, two guys from church came over to get my bedroom set. I was just leaving for work, so I just had to show them where it was and leave them to it, but off it went. Again, this bedroom set was something I was attached to. It had belonged to my great grandmother. I had used it ever since I was a little girl. Every time I went overseas, I told my family, “You’d better not get rid of that bedroom set.” Even though it wasn’t very pretty, it was made of solid wood and the drawers were spacious and worked well and the dresser had a large mirror. Ultimately, it was better quality than anything I could afford to buy. And now I was just sending it away on a truck.
On Tuesday, April 15, I had the day off work. I went up to the attic and started going through my stuff. Here was all my kitchen stuff. It was lovely stuff, and it was almost a comprehensive enough amount to completely cover any need I could have in the kitchen. I started initially trying to sort through it, but it was impossible. I would have to simply give the boxes away, sight unseen, or I would never get through it. They were all nicely packed and neatly labeled, so I knew what was in them. A sort of mixed joy and sorrow fought within me, joy that I was giving my friend stuff that was really nice, good quality, and useful--and sorrow that I was going to part with it. There was a Kitchenaid mixer, lovely glassware, lots of casserole dishes, my beautiful silver-plated flatware that I loved, and much, much more.
As I walked down from the attic with box after box of my kitchen stuff, I couldn’t help experiencing a flood of thoughts. An attack and counterattack raged, as doubts assailed my mind and faith replied to the challenge.
“This is all your kitchen stuff!”
“Yes, I know.”
“You have spent your lifetime collecting this stuff. You can never get it back.”
“Maybe I don’t need it back.”
“You are giving away the entire contents of your hope chest.”
“My hope is in the Lord, not in my stuff.”
“Think of the cost of replacing all this.”
“That’s ok. It will be a blessing to the person I give it to.”
Despite my persistent rebuff of the doubts, I could feel my spirits sinking, and I sensed that I was close to tears. I fought it off. “No, I will not be sad. I will rejoice. I choose to rejoice.” I loaded up the final box into my car. Fourteen boxes. My car was full: trunk, back seat, front passenger seat. I drove off.
Not two minutes down the road, the tears came. I made a verbal proclamation of my joy and rejoicing while the tears coursed down my cheeks and the sobs came in little gasps. The flesh would mourn, in spite of my best intentions, but I paid it no heed and reaffirmed my verbal declarations of joy. I would not take the flesh’s road, even if I could not override its tears.
By the time I got to Ellerslie, I was composed enough to walk in and cheerfully greet my friend. “I have some kitchen stuff in my car for you to look at.” She came out and was amazed at the amount of stuff I had brought. We ended up getting some guys to help us put it into one of the bedrooms in the dorms so that she could look at it later. Genuine rejoicing got the upper hand while I was talking to her, and I was able to say things like, “Oh, you will love this! Look at this one! Here is some silverware! AND—you have a Kitchenaid!” My friend was excited. “Oh, wow, this is like Christmas!” she said. So I left my kitchen stuff behind. I was leaving for another country, and I didn’t know if I would ever be coming back, so it just made sense.
I drove away, spent, exhausted, and still raw from the ripping away of stuff that I was attached to. I cried off and on later throughout the day. I remember driving to a local coffee shop to do some computer work, and before I went in, I got a phone call from a person I was doing some volunteer work for, and I sat in my car talking to him. I had spoken to him briefly on the phone right at the outset of my drive over to Ellerslie, and I had made a comment about how I had my car full of boxes. He asked me about what I was doing. I told him I had donated some books to Ellerslie and some kitchen stuff to my friend. He said, “I would not have gotten rid of your books if I was you.” I tried to assume an air of nonchalance in replying, “Oh, yes, I really liked my books. They were great. It was hard to get rid of them.” My books, though, were not the raw, painful sore in my soul. They were the part I could flippantly and cheerfully discuss. The caller pointed out that I could have put them in storage. He gave me the idea of having every box of my stuff labeled with a number in storage, and having an Excel document with all the contents of the boxes, and then I could go anywhere in the world and ask for box 1 and somebody could ship it to me. “That’s a brilliant idea!” I exclaimed. Somehow it had not occurred to me that I could store my stuff, or reclaim it by shipping. Ultimately, I believe it was because the cost would have been so prohibitive that it never even entered my head as an option. He offered me space in his storage unit, and I gratefully realized that God was providing everything I needed in order to sort out my stuff.
Wednesday through Friday (April 16-18), I pretty much worked full time and didn’t make any additional progress towards settling my affairs. I left my job on the 18th with not many regrets. Everything had changed over the last two months and it was not a fun place to work anymore. Nevertheless, it was a job, and now I was striking out into the unknown, with no guarantee of the future.
Part 1 of 5. Read part 2