Release

Well, we made it to South Dakota. Even if some of our stuff didn’t.

Van Meter Move 2014 got off to a rocky start when, two days before we were to load up, Budget called to tell us our truck was cancelled. Thirty-six frantic hours later, I had located a slightly smaller truck—22’ instead of 24’—and got busy drawing up plans.

You wouldn’t think that those two feet would make that much difference in what did and did not make it onto the truck. According to my floor plan for packing, we should still have some room left over in the last few feet of truck to fit it all into.

My packing schematic--the source of no small amount of teasing from wife and friends, but a quite efficient tool, if I do say so myself.

My packing schematic–the source of no small amount of teasing from wife and friends, but a quite efficient tool, if I do say so myself.

That was before I realized some of the things I’d left off the schematic. Two dressers had been stuffed into closets beyond my consideration. Not in the plan. The basketball goal the boys’ grandparents bought them. Not in the plan. My table saw and the boys’ bicycles. My own fault for leaving those out, but still…not in the plan.

The schematic more or less worked for about 14 feet, at which point the left-outs began to show up. Five feet from the bumper, it became clear that we were not going to make it.

Looking at all the things we’d accumulated, I started to panic. How much had we paid for all this stuff? And how could we justify leaving it behind? For a few minutes, I felt like Steve Martin from “The Jerk.”

“I don’t need anything! Except this stapler…and the paddle game…and the ashtray…and the remote control…”

And these mower ramps. And the wheelbarrow. And my mountain bike…

The truth is that I don’t need any of these anymore. Our yard is too small for a riding mower. The grounds crew at DWU takes care of mulch and debris. I haven’t mountain biked in five years, not since I fell in love with road biking.

Not only did these things not fit in my trailer. They no longer fit in my life. So why would I hang onto them?

Good question. One answer is that I paid for them—earned them, in a manner of speaking. Another is that I might need them again someday. Another is that I might be able to sell them and use the cash to buy other stuff.

But, from garden tools to grudges, anything we earn can outlive its usefulness. Hanging on to old treasures are signs of living in the past, or of waiting for a past-like future. And which is more important: more cash to buy more stuff, or blessing a friend who still needs what I no longer do?

When we closed the door on the trailer, we left out a lot of things. I’m sure that time will prove that some of what we took with us is useless, and some of what we left we’ll wish we had. No matter. We got something of greater value: a lesson in releasing the past.

Don’t bring with you things you don’t need. And you need a lot less than you think.

Necessary Destruction

Part of re-building is tearing down. That, it seems, is an unavoidable lesson, and one that I’ve learned through water.

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We spent a lot of time destroying the old at Wesley Foundation in the past few weeks, all in preparation for something new.

Once it gets into a place it is not supposed to be, water can do all manner of damage. It ruins fabric, rusts metal, warps flooring. It rots away wood and seeps up into drywall, inviting mold and mildew that can range from unpleasant to toxic.

Before anything can be put back in its place after a flood, the ruined material has to be taken out, lest it weaken or corrupt the new. The first step in reconstruction is necessary destruction.

This, I think, provides a pretty strong and pretty clear metaphor for the way life goes: we can’t fully move into something new without tearing out something old. It’s the same advice the Apostle Paul gave. Consider the past rubbish. Throw it aside. Forget what is behind, and full steam ahead.

I have to admit, however, that I am uncomfortable with the metaphor of destruction, true though it may be. For one thing, it feels like a lesson in theoretical physics: just because we know (or think we know) something doesn’t mean we can put that knowledge to any practical use. That, in fact, is one of Paul’s laments, that he cannot seem to bring himself to banish evil and do the good his heart desires.

I’m also hesitant to talk about destruction because we deal with so much of it already–loss and fear of loss that take away precious things or people, or that steal the joy found in those things. I confess that I sometimes cringe when I hear rhetoric of change, especially in church settings, because I know it will mean imposing yet another loss on someone else.

Still, the metaphor of destruction holds, regardless of how much I dislike it personally. So I try to think of it in a more positive light.

My favorite example is from a book we read to our youngest son at least six times a week when he was a toddler. In it, a group of friends plants a garden together. Everybody’s plot grows except one–that is, until another friend harvests his sunflowers, allowing light to fall on the empty strawberry patch. Once the sunlight hits the bare plot, it too begins to grow and produce fruit.

The thing that was keeping something else from growing had to be removed, but that could be done with a celebration of what it had produced.

I try to present this to my college students when we talk about relationships. A breakup doesn’t necessarily invalidate what was a good thing. It may only be a time of tearing out–painful, yes, but necessary to allow for a strong rebuilding. Other examples abound.

It’s not a neat process, of course. Some necessary destruction looks downright awful and feels even worse. And truthfully, most of us experience tearing down and rebuilding as overlapping processes.

Then again, I’ve lived through enough changes (my own and those I care about) to know not to expect tidiness, not when it comes to internal or external change. Necessary destruction is still destruction, but by God’s grace it doesn’t have to destroy us. Rather, it can pave the way for something new.