Excess Baggage

Packing for vacation always causes stress in my marriage.  My wife Christy packs the bare essentials.  I pack like a twelve year old girl.  Just as it is impossible for me to travel light, it is impossible for her to waste a single square inch of our luggage on frivolous items.  I, on the other hand, am like a Boy Scout who always insists on being prepared.  

What if it rains?  I’ll need a poncho.   What if I get hungry?  Better bring plenty of snacks.  What if there’s a blizzard?  Throw in the wool socks.  What if I get some time to read?  Going to need plenty of books.  What if there’s a terrorist attack?  Radiation suit.  Definitely better bring the radiation suit. 

If I were an action figure, I’d come with a lot of accessories. 

I’m convinced that somewhere in my childhood I must have been snowed in without food and water because I have such a fear of scarcity when packing.  I hate packing at the last minute because I’m convinced I’m going to forget something.  And what could be worse than that?  I might actually end up somewhere without something I need. 

When it’s packing time, Christy and I are the irresistible force and the immovable object colliding in an epic battle of wills.  Now that we have kids, she’s actually demoted me down to a smaller suitcase, something about the size of my grade school lunch box.

I’ve countered that move with a whole range of tactics.  Sometimes I pack extra bags, like backpacks and overnight bags, and slip them in the car when she’s not looking.   Other times, I’ll cram things under car seats or in the corner of the trunk.   When I’m truly desperate, I’ll hide some of my stuff in Christy’s luggage or the kids’.   I know, brilliant, right? 

Back and forth we go in a relentless game of cat and mouse.   The only problem is that even when I win I end up losing. 

Guess who ends up carrying most of this luggage?  Some days it can be a real hassle.  To be totally honest, sometimes it makes me wonder if I could get by carrying around a little bit less.  That would mean letting go of some stuff, though, and letting go is never easy. 

Sometimes I catch myself carrying my packrat tendencies into my spiritual life.

When it comes to our hearts, we’re all carrying around some heavy baggage.  Whether it’s guilt or grudges, disappointment or destructive habits, it’s easy to pick up things we were never meant to carry.  The result?  It saps our strength, breaks our back and steals our joy. 

Maybe that’s why Jesus invited people like me, people who are weary and burdened, to come and hang out with Him and rest.  He talked about what it would be like to trade our heavy loads in for a life that’s easy and light. 

Easy and light.  On a day like today when I feel like I’m carrying the weight of my world, easy and light sounds pretty good. 

What are you carrying that you shouldn’t?  What’s getting in the way of the life you were made to live?  Whatever it is, whatever is weighing you down, take it from a fellow over-packer – you’ll be happier if you can just leave some stuff behind.  

Maybe it’s time to trade in that suitcase for a lunchbox.  Or better yet, maybe it’s time to lose the baggage altogether.

The Least Likelies

One morning I had breakfast with a dad in our church who was going through a divorce.  We didn’t really know each other but had hooked up during a children’s ministry event he had attended with his child.  After listening to his story, I felt like God had given me some things I needed to say, some hard things that would be difficult for him to hear.  If he took it to heart, it had the potential to change the entire trajectory of his life.

As soon as I laid it out, I knew it hit him right between the eyes.  After an awkward silence he said, “Wow, that was really deep.  I needed to hear that.  I can’t believe you’re the Children’s Minister.”  In other words, “Where did that come from?  I thought you were an idiot.”

I smiled and thought of a Bible verse that says, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

The Bible is full of jokers like me, people who on their own are lucky to change their socks let alone change someone’s life.   David was a nobody before God used him to take down a giant.  Gideon was a coward.  Moses was a murderer.  Abraham was a liar.  Noah got drunk.  Joseph was arrogant.  Paul beat up Christians.  Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was.  Not exactly a league of moral superstars, huh?

Yet each one of them ended up changing the world, and nobody ever saw it coming. 

I love how God loves to use these “least-likelies,” people who have no business being able to say things and do things that God uses to change lives.  Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

My friend was right.  Sometimes I am an idiot.  What I spoke into his life that morning came out of nowhere.  It certainly didn’t come from any worldly wisdom that I possess.   At the end of the day, when God uses someone like me, there is no mistake who gets the credit. 

So beware of the fools, the weaklings, the lowlifes and the despised who you may encounter this week.  They might be my fellow “least-likelies,” and you never know how God might use one of them to mess with your head . . . in a good way.  Who knows?  We may even invite you to join up.

Unhandy Manny

I’m not exactly what you would call handy around the house.  I can paint.  Maybe hang a picture or two.  Anything bigger than that puts me on thin ice.  But somewhere along the way in my flawed education, a well-meaning teacher gave me the wrong impression that I can learn how to do anything just by reading a book.  It’s given me this crazy, false confidence that if I can just find the right book or website, I can figure out how to do pretty much anything on my own. 

Fix the toilet?  No problem.  Install a ceiling fan?  Child’s play.  Add a wing onto the house?  Why not?

Last fall we needed to retile our bathroom, not exactly an easy job for an amateur.   But I figured, hey, how hard could it really be?  I bought a book which explained the whole process in clear, simple steps.  It looked like any monkey with some grout could slap this thing together.  So I went to Lowe’s, bought all of my supplies and took a day off of work to knock it out.

Fast forward to 24 hours later, and imagine what a house would look like if the incredible Hulk had just gone postal in the bathroom.   I had worked non-stop, attempted to do everything just as the book had said and still wasn’t even close to finishing.  Not to mention the fact that what I did accomplish looked pretty crummy. 

I was desperate, so I called in someone who actually knew what he was doing.  I found a guy named Miles who work with tiles (no kidding) to come and save the day.   In a sickeningly short amount of time, Miles came over and did a perfect job.  I both loved him and despised him. 

Mainly, I loved him.  What a relief to have it done and done right.

If the opposite of a handy man is an unhandy man, that would be me, Unhandy Manny.  All of my hard work had been totally pointless.  I was completely exhausted with nothing to show for my effort except a bill and a sore back.

I’ve come to expect this when it comes to home improvement, but it’s really frustrating when this happens in other areas of my life. 

Have you ever found yourself in a season where you’re exhausted, and you can’t seem to get anything done?  It’s like no matter how much you work, you feel like you’re just treading water. If you’re like me, maybe it’s because you’re running ahead of God. 

The Bible says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builder labor in vain . . . He grants sleep to those He loves.”  In other words, life is much better with God doing the heavy lifting instead of me making a lame attempt on my own. 

Whether I’m working at my job, on my friendships, or on my home life, there are moments when I genuinely take the time to let God lead me.  I carve out time to ask Him, “What next?” and trust His timing.  I actually let Him empower me to do life His way. 

Other times, not so much.  Other times, I’m just busy.  I hate busy.  Busy kills my soul, and ironically, I don’t get nearly as much done as when I slow down and invite God to lead my day.  I guess God is kind of like Miles who works with tiles, an expert craftsman who comes in and bails me out when I’ve reached the end of myself.