“It’s okay, my mom says the children are more important than the stuff,” I heard my newly adopted daughter tell her friend, that is, after I heard a breaking glass in the sink. I smiled with satisfaction that she realized her importance in our lives.
…and for the record, I still had a lot to learn about the value of stuff…
My own mother was “stuff” challenged. I don’t mean she valued stuff over us, simply that she had a hard time with keeping the physical possessions of her life organized, and like most people, this happened because she just had too many possessions to keep tidy. Unfortunately, I inherited the trait.
Over the years, God provided me with several catalysts for moving closer to the organized “stuff” person I’d always wanted to be, but in those moments, I did not see the events as positively as I do now.
The year 1997 brought big changes for us as our little family moved from Richmond, VA to Jackson, MI to attend missionary training. We left a four-bedroom house after multiple yard sales, thinking we had effectively shaved down our “holdings.”
It took nearly six weeks for me to get all those boxes hidden–notice I did not say unpacked–at the other end of that move.
Two years into training, we moved to Oregon for the second phase of our schooling, oddly enough, learning to live in a third-world culture. Imagine the irony of my showing up with all my first-world possessions. More yard sales preceded that move, and this time, we managed to fit everything into a three-bedroom “apartment” and a tiny storage stall. That apartment, really four rooms on a corridor of an old Air Force barracks, highlighted some of our stuff problems.
This brings us to 2000 when we moved back to Jackson, MI to join the staff at their Bible Institute, and we moved into a three-bedroom apartment for a single year before scoring a three-bedroom unit in a duplex with a basement and garage. I’ll admit I reverted during the six years we lived in that house and eventually took over the entire duplex, converting it to one six-bedroom house after we adopted two more children. I filled that house in record time.
Six years later, we moved to our current farmhouse with way more stuff than any family needs, but we had a basement and several outbuildings, so what was the harm, right?
… until the Year from Hades: 2008
That year challenged and stretched us in ways I still can’t believe, and I won’t go through the list of tragedies, but two stand out as putting my “stuff” into perspective.
In March of that year, our girls left in my van to take a friend home an hour away, and about five minutes later, in the middle of an afternoon painting project that eventually took months to finish, my phone rang. I can’t even remember which girl called me, but she was stunned, and she didn’t know if the friend was alive or not.
He was, but barely, and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Grand Rapids. My girls, banged up and sore with only one broken collar bone between them, would be fine. After some time in a medically-induced coma, Cassie’s friend found his way to recovery as well.
Cassie kept apologizing about my car–newest one I had owned since before getting married. All I wanted was for my girls to be okay and for that precious mama whose boy lay in a coma to have the same blessing for her son. A van, no matter how new, mattered very little in that moment.
A very difficult and eventful spring and summer passed and Thanksgiving came and went. The evening of November 30 found me at my desk after 10 pm in our little one-room schoolhouse that Todd had renovated from an old garage. I taught for a small online school back then and had only a few classes, but course prep still loomed over me because we had been struggling through a hospitalization for one of our children.
I turned out the lights and trudged across our one-acre lot to the house and dropped off to sleep much more quickly than usual. I remember the lights flickering as I crawled into bed, but that’s not uncommon in a century-old farmhouse.
An hour later, heavy banging sounded at the door, and a man was yelling. I grabbed my gun–yes, we’re those people–and headed for the door to find our volunteer fire chief desperate to know if everyone was accounted for on the property, “Is anyone in that building?” he demanded? I poked my head out the door to see my beloved home school building a veritable torch, with the propane tank that fueled our little garage heater shooting flames into the sky.
I had over 3,000 books in our library out there, including several treasured photo albums. I know the number because I counted them after my mother-in-law came to visit some months earlier and exclaimed at the sheer volume of, well… volumes–in her defense, folks, she never home schooled.
The building was a total loss, but my children were all safe, sleeping comfortably in their beds. In fact, I don’t even think any of them woke up to our yard full of fire trucks. I believe three municipalities sent help because their first report was that our residence was on fire, and they had anticipated loss of life. This sobering thought certainly put the “stuff” of that school building into perspective.
My mind went back to old friends from college who also suffered a fire but had not been so fortunate and lost their baby and grandmother. The loss of their brand new house mattered not at all in the face of such unfathomable loss.
The other night, I sat in my living room with a friend and discussed my house, and how I really no longer have a room (in the house anyway) that I’d be horrified to have someone open the door on. My neighbors have probably scratched their heads over the years at the volume of junk our garbage collectors have carried away, but I don’t miss any of it–okay, maybe the scrapbooks I worked so hard on. I know the real treasures of my life and have learned to let go of the rest.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.