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.