Collecting Things

I’m reading ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen. As the back of the book says, it’s the story of Jacob Jankowski who “recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, swindlers and misfits in a second-rate circus struggling to survive.”
Sometimes the circumstances that we find ourselves in are less than predictable. The other night I read this paragraph before falling asleep:

“Listen,” he says. “I ain’t trying to know your business but I do know you ain’t been on the road long. You are too clean, your clothes are too good and you don’t own a possession in the world. You collect things on the road – maybe not nice things, but you collect them all the same.”

I woke the next day with it fresh on my mind and began to journal about all the stuff I carry. Not just physical stuff but ‘thought’ stuff really, the stuff that weighs me down, the things I fear, the uncertainty of it all. Mostly I am not sure how we got here nor how we managed to stay here for so long. Sometimes I feel like I got on the wrong train like Jacob did, I look around me and I don’t see how we belong.

The emergency department at St Vincent’s hospital is not unlike sideshow alley at the circus. The nurses at the window, the ones who decide how important it is that you be admitted and when, are tough. They have to be. Every drug addict and homeless person has been knocking on the glass all night asking for sandwiches, coffee and coins. They are making up ailments so that they can be seen. Sam and I sit amongst them, saddened by their stories and dig deep in our handbags for change.

These days I pack light. For years I carried around a massive big handbag full of things I ‘might need’. Spending a year in hospital with Sam changed that. She taught me how to carry the essentials, to pack light and to have a spot in my bag for each thing. That year in hospital I nearly drove my daughter mad. My phone would ring and I would forget which pocket it was in, I would lose my keys and could never find a pen to write down all the things the doctors were telling me. She re-educated me about the benefits of order. She has been teaching me this since the day she was born.

Sam and I made our way across town to St Vincent’s late afternoon twice this last week. We tried to make conversation in the car but the main thing on our minds was what to do with all the new complications. In an attempt to be light I told Sam funny things about the kids; things they have drawn and cute things they did for news. We laughed out loud together over the anecdotes. We both love children and teaching and watching them grow.

In school this week we introduced news for the first time. The syllabus categorises it as ‘Talking and Listening’ (those of us who are older may know it as ‘Show and Tell’) but the kids normally just call it ‘News’ or ‘Telling News’ if they didn’t bring something to show. I love when the kids tell their news, all their quirky personality traits (and some of their parents’) creep out in this two minute session of weekly fame.

When I announced it was news time, one little girl sprung to her feet with boundless enthusiasm. “I’ve got good news,” she announced and raced out the door to get it from her bag. “I like that,” I told her when she returned and at that moment I decided that from now on we are calling news time – ‘Good News.’ In her hands she had a little book she had made from the cardboard that came with the new curtains. She told the kids this in response to the question “How did you make it?” I love the creativity of children, their ability to find inspiration in the simplest of things. As she turned the pages she treated us to the story of her life.

It was jam-packed full of the coolest things. My favourite page of all was the street where she lives. She pointed to her house in the cul-de-sac that was drawn from aerial view and therefore all the houses on the lower side of the street were drawn upside down. How clever is the perspective of childhood! I smiled at her detailed drawing and thought about how my house feels upside down these days too.

Then I started to wonder whether God allows our worlds to be held upside down so that everything is tipped out and emptied. Maybe he wants us to examine what we are carrying with us and how much of it is necessary for our life. Even though the bag I carry now is small I am still myself and the order of things may never be quite like Sam’s bag. Mostly it’s in order. The outside pocket holds my phone, the medical bills I need to claim sit in the one at the back (should probably claim them) with my lipstick and in the centre is one space for my kindle, my wallet and my keys.

As I watched the homeless man go from patient to patient, from window to window, I remembered I had some change in a ‘tooth envelope’ (this is another story) and it probably was at the bottom of my bag. I whispered this to Sam and asked permission to load the contents of my bag on her lap. Sure enough I had 70 cents I had forgotten about down at the bottom, hidden under everything. I caught the eye of the homeless man and called him over. “Look what I found, its only 70 cents but its yours if it’s helpful.” He grinned at the money as he poured it from the envelope into his hand telling me he could get some more off the doctor, enough for chips from the vending machine, and he scuttled off.

Maybe this is what God is doing with our lives as well. He tips everything out, he gets us to pay attention to what is going on around us and as we seek Him he shows us small treasures we forgot that we had, little discoveries that may be useful for someone else’s day. Perhaps when we offer our lives, as a living sacrifice, He listens and begins to unpackage us so that all that is left is our desire for Him. I can imagine Him taking out all the contents, moving things aside and sorting things out.

We headed back to hospital for this very reason: to sort things out. I wanted to get answers to questions and to work out what to do next. Sometimes the only answer is to wait and see, or to have more scans and tests. This was the outcome on both days this week and now there are so many more tests we need to have done. Sam needs a lung scan, a detailed one that analyses her breathing; she needs to see the oncologist who normally removes tumours to look at her toe; and she needs more blood tests to discover what is happening with the levels in her liver. Sometimes feels like this might never end.

It’s tiring going through the process but so much of life is about getting things straight and in order. Along the way you create better systems so that the next time a problem does arise you have a better way of dealing with it and maybe somehow through it all your capacity to carry things expands. This week however I am thinking that God doesn’t want us to go out and get a bigger bag for all the stuff we carry with us. Maybe we’ve collected things ‘on the road’ that aren’t ours to collect. Instead of trying to be brave, to expand and carry more stuff I am seeking God for the things he wants me to let go of, the stuff that is buried at the bottom of my bag that I don’t really need.

What about you? Are you lugging around stuff that you don’t need to carry? What’s in your bag? You may enjoy this lovely post I read on another blog.

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8 Comments

Filed under Life

8 responses to “Collecting Things

  1. Wendy Gilbert

    Last year I felt prompted, even inspired to throw out old journals that I had been keeping for years. It was initially very challenging, as I had written many thoughts, disappointments and dreams in those journals. When I finally did it, it was surprisingly very therapeutic. As I tossed out the journals, I somehow tossed out those things that were weighing me down!! I could dream afresh!!! I am not sure that I am up for a purse clean out though – “Sorry Sam”

    • Clare Froggatt

      Wow, Wendy! That is such a huge thing to throw out all those words. I did the same with my teenage journals half a century ago. I also threw out all the medical protocols of Sam’s chemotherapy at the end of 2009. I have worried a few times whether I should have infact kept them but I figure the hospital has it all on file and the sight of that folder made me feel physically ill. Hooray for fresh dreams and a bright future. x

  2. Deborah Cohen

    Dear Clare. How many times over the last two or so years has your blog and poignant words spoken to me? Too many to acknowledge here. “Water for Elephants” had a profound effect on me and will always be one of my all time favourites.

    Over the past few months I have felt like “Jacob” and thought I had jumped on the wrong train… My dad has been critically ill and I have been commuting back and forth from Hobart to Sydney. So often ,while I have negotiated the difficulties at Royal North Shore, I have drawn strength from your journey. He’s not my child, but he is my dad. Being his fierce advocate
    has been all consuming. On my many visits, I have packed and carried too
    much – literally and figuratively. Our thoughts and prayers are still with you all. May your “bag” be lighter this week xxx (and from Jasper)

    • Clare Froggatt

      Oh Deb, I am so sorry to hear about your dad and can not imagine how you are managing the trip back and forth from Tassie. I was just thinking of you on Sunday before your comment came through. I will most certainly be praying for you as you juggle it all and also pray for your dad.
      Love Clare

  3. It’s Council Clean up this week and I LOVE that every six months or so there’s no excuse to chuck out all the rubbish that I haven’t used in the previous six months. I’ll often hesitate over something in the pile, and then rationalise keeping it for ‘one day’ – but, if I haven’t used it recently I’ll close my eyes and ruthlessly chuck it on the kerb only to laugh to see someone helping themselves to my cast offs.

    The same applies to ‘life’ stuff… sometimes getting out of the way, or handing over stuff that’s weighing us down actually opens something for someone else in a whole other version of recycling.

    • Clare Froggatt

      Oh dear! I have a confession to make. I DID pick up a delightful cane chair from the Council Clean Up in Terrey Hills on Sunday. I love cane chairs and I have picked up many off the nature strip only to discover that they are unravelling as soon as I get them home. This one was perfect, or so I thought until I sat on it and discovered that one leg is about 8 inches shorter than the otehr three. Lesson learned…no more picking up rubbish!

  4. Jacqui Mikac

    I’m a sell confessed neat freak and have boxes and baskets for everything, so the handbag thing is not an isse for me. However, in regards to things weighing us down, this is my recent experience: I ripped and tossed my youth photo albums recently; pretty unusual. As I did this I felt an amazing sense of relief. For all these years I have been keeping these albums out of a sense of duty. These pictures brought sadness each time I looked at them; they produced inner turmoil and reminded me of unhappy family times. Now I just remember the happy moments, those that were wholesome and good and untainted before God. I feel ‘decluttered’ and free. To declutter is liberating indeed!

    • Clare Froggatt

      Oh Jacqui, I think photos are the hardest thing to let go of…I have so many stashed in boxes waiting to be sorted. What an incredible thing to let go of and what a wonderful thing to feel so free as a result. Thanks for telling us your story. love Clare xxx

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