Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Streamlining for a Better Journey

A couple of days ago, I described the immense challenge we took as a family to transport ourselves from North America to the other side of the globe. It was an incredible effort that required a lot of luggage for the journey. (You can read the story by clicking here.) We couldn't expect to buy some of the necessary items we needed like baby gear, books, and for me - maternity clothes when we arrived in Thailand, and we also wanted to bring a few comfort items along with us. So, we took advantage and used our entire luggage allotment and then some! Each suitcase was weighed and filled to 50 pounds and our carry on bags were stuffed with a menagerie of important items.

In my previous blog, I also painted a vivid picture of some of the hurdles we had to jump through just to get our bags to the other side of the security lines when we were in L.A.. Just imagine carrying a couple of very heavy suitcases through a crowded hallway, while also carrying overstuffed backpacks, and, all the while keeping track of 3 energetic young children!

Many of us walk through life feeling like we are a traveler dragging a couple old, wobbly suitcases; wearing a backpack loaded up with bricks and having our arms loaded up with a poorly stacked pile of books and files and other random objects. Try as we might, we can't seem to break into the momentum we'd like to have and we are weighed down by stuff from our past that we cling to - not knowing that life would be much better if we'd let go of those things. Sometimes what weighs us down is not quite as obvious, and it's more like we're wearing those old ankle weights that were popular back in the 80's - except the ankle weights are a good twenty pounds each, and really hinder your ability to pick up speed in life, and you always feel tired.

If you are lugging around some baggage in your life, there's a good chance you can quickly identify some of the most obvious things that are on your "to do list" that you'd like to work on. Life, to me, is about constant development and stepping up to challenges so I can do the best I can and become the best I can, with the time that has been allotted to me.

However, the nature of the baggage I'm about to tackle is more like the 80's ankle weights that you could hide beneath your workout clothes and no one would be the wiser. It seems to lurk beneath the surface. What I'm concerned about in my life if the kind of stuff you just want to ignore, sweep under the rug, pretend it's not there - or simply cope with and justify. It's the kind of issues that slowly wear you down, but they're not glaring faults, so they are easy to excuse.

When I was a child, and now that I have children myself, I've noticed that the concept of cleaning can be liberally interpreted. If I say "clean up the living room" to my 5 year old, that means she might move some toys around and pick up a couple random pieces of paper up off the floor, putting them on the kitchen counter or, heaven forbid, toss them into my bedroom for me to deal with later! Obviously this doesn't meet my standard of cleanliness, but to a 5 year old, some effort has been put in and she probably feels that the living room looks fine now. If I was going to pay my oldest child to clean up the living room (not that we pay our kids to do chores...) then my expectations and standards would be quite a bit higher. I would expect the broom and mop to come out, and I'd want the piano and fireplace mantle to be dusted. I wouldn't want to find any toys, papers, shoes, sippy cups, apple cores or cheerios under the couches! I might even expect the couch cushions to be vacuumed and windows to be washed.

As we inspect our lives, and more explicitly our hearts, we often treat the examination and soul-searching the way a 5 year old would clean the living room. The obvious issues might be repented of, and we pledge to change and make an effort to do better. Some of the things in our lives are obvious - and these problems are generally less dangerous because they are in the open and we aren't trying to ignore them! I believe the danger is in what lurks beneath the surface - those issues that we dread to uncover, face head-on and deal with once and for all.

However, my heart convicts me to look deeper and be willing to face things in my life which I have excused and justified for so long. I can't lie to myself and say that those issues are non-issues when they have a negative impact on my life and my relationship with others. So I am open to the revelation of mindsets that hold me back - emotions which pop up and have a poor effect on how I treat others. As humbling and scary as it is, I'm willing to see my faults so I can be open to change.

The Christian life is paradoxical in many ways. On one hand, God demands our time, effort, mind, will, emotions, and even our money, but on the other hand, He is a gentleman and will not force his way into our personal business. We must invite Him into the process.

Psalm 139 talks about how God can search and know our hearts. (It would stand to reason that He is the one with the best perspective of our lives, and can reveal to us the issues that weigh us down and hold us back.) I've also found that God's Word is an excellent window into the soul. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that "the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." If you are wondering where to start on your journey of soul searching, then prayer and immersion in the Bible is ideal.

I know I've been lugging stuff around for a while, and I'm used to it. If you've ever been hiking in the mountains, and you carry a backpack, after a while you don't really notice the weight. It's once that weight is lifted off that you suddenly feel so incredibly light, almost like your shoulders and back are floating!

To make another analogy, if I want to get on the plane and enjoy the adventure that is to come, I must be willing to surrender my luggage and make it available for a security check. If you've traveled on a plane internationally lately, then you've noticed how obsessive the security for flights has become. First you must subject your baggage to an x-ray (and put yourself through a metal detector, after removing your shoes and belt and any other objective items). If the security personnel are feeling motivated, they will continue to examine your luggage by swishing a small piece of cloth through your purse, laptop bag and/or suitcase in search of incriminating scents that will be picked up by their fancy 'drug-and-bomb-busting-sensors'. If they still feel skeptical and dubious about your items, they will then subject them them to a hand-search, with no sense of respect to your neatly packed shirts, shorts and underwear that may be in your suitcase. I know they are just doing their job, but it certainly does emphasize my point. It is not easy or comfortable to become vulnerable, and to subject yourself to a baggage search. But holding onto questionable things (or thoughts and emotions) may delay or even prevent your departure to a better place.

So what I'm trying to convey is that the process is uncomfortable but necessary. If you truly desire for your relationship with others and most of all your relationship with God to be better... then it is vital to strip away the unnecessary, hindering and afflicting baggage that weighs you down. Unfortunately, we must become brutally honest with ourselves to examine our hearts and face the issues which hold us back.

I am in a place where I refuse to continue to be the same person whom I've been for much of my marriage (and, let's face it, for half my life). It's time for change and I feel God's finger pointing at areas of my life which I've kept under wraps for so long. I won't allow myself to be weighed down any more. I've got my ticket in hand and I'll do whatever it takes to get on the flight. No more junk. No more suitcases filled with misconceptions and cumbersome emotional issues. I'm streamlining and only have room in my carry-on bag for the things in life that matter most.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23,24)

Final boarding call... I'm here and I'll do whatever it takes to not miss this flight.

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