“Walk through the house room by room,” my husband said. “Make a list of the things that are valuable. We have to make a decision.”
It turns out that even though those international-flying jets are pretty gargantuan, they can’t actually carry all your possessions in their cargo holds. So, when moving countries one has to make a choice: Ship your stuff (as in, on an actual ship) for a significant price, or sell everything and start over, save an allotment of two 25-pound suitcases per person. (Technically, you can take up to nine suitcases per person if you’re willing to pay the excess baggage fees, but for some reason, the thought of our family traipsing through LAX with 54 suitcases shuts me down.)
We’ve been here before. I walked through the house.
It’s a cruel exercise, because it’s stuff, but it’s not just stuff. How do you place a monetary value on memories that are so closely entwined with material things?
It’s a couch, but it’s not just a couch. It’s midnight feedings and a child propped up in my arms in the middle of the night so the ear infection isn’t so painful and friends crying tears of happiness and loss. It’s kids jumping off the top in Spiderman costumes even though I told them a thousand times not to. It’s family movie nights, as evidenced by the stale popcorn crunched between the cushions.
It’s a dollhouse, but it’s not just a dollhouse. It’s the endless chatter of imaginary play. It’s a symbol of my older daughter learning to share one of her favorite things with a younger sister who didn’t, at first, know how to love. It’s a picture of acceptance: “I’m not the only princess anymore, and it’s going to be okay. Enter into my space…you’re welcome here.”
It’s a table, but it’s not just a table. It’s family chaos and “tell me about your day” and meals shared over vulnerable heart talk with friend after friend after friend. It’s revived marriages and prayers for wayward kids and “Is God even real?” and so, so much laughter.
It’s a fish tank, but it’s not just a—oh, wait. No. We’ll happily leave the fish tank behind. And the fish. (If you don’t know why, here you go.)
But besides that.
How do you liquidate a life and be okay with it?
I’ve seen the news. Thousands of people have lost everything they own at the hand of storms whose tame names “Harvey” and “Irma” make them sound more like a bingo-loving couple of sixty years than two of the most powerful hurricanes in modern history. I’ve seen the interviews: “It’s just stuff. We’re still alive—we still have each other, and that’s all that really matters.” And it’s true. It’s just stuff. Regardless of what makes it inside the cargo hold of an airplane or a 20-foot container on the back of a ship, I’ll have my husband and four kids buckled beside me in the back row of the economy section of a 747, right next to the lavatory, no doubt. We’ll be together, and that should be enough.
Because it’s just stuff, right?
Weary hurricane victims may look into the camera and say it’s just stuff, and I may speak those words when I toss a well-worn blanket into the box marked “give away,” but don’t miss the cost behind those words. Because it’s not just stuff. It’s memories. It’s a lifetime built. It’s the peaks and troughs of your story told through casserole dishes and a hope chest and your son’s first Lego set. As Jennifer Trafton so beautifully states, it’s home, “…the place in the world that is both your soul’s sanctuary and the anchor of your story.”
As is true with most things, it’s both/and. It’s stuff, but it’s not just stuff. To say “People are what matter the most—they’re the only things in life that aren’t irreplaceable,” doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to leave things behind, or to have them taken away from you against your will by a pounding storm surge. My desires for stability, for memories, for home do not negate my firm belief that God is sovereign, or that it is worth it to go where He leads, no matter the cost. But oh, it’s important to recognize the cost.
I walked through my house and then sat on the porch swing—the swing that probably won’t go with us—and I cried. And I imagined Jesus beside me, not condemning me for being worldly or materialistic, but sitting with me in my grief, because He knows it’s hard to let go. His empathy gives me courage to follow the bend in the road, hands open, trusting the bigger Story that will make my story make sense in the end.