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March 13, 2017

What I Learned From Unpacking Boxes

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So…we moved.

I kept thinking I would blog through the two week process of packing, unpacking, and eating meals on paper plates standing up in a part of the kitchen without boxes or packing paper in it…but I was wrong.

Moving kicked my tail.  I don’t think I’ve been that tired since we brought Mia Grace home from China.

But I learned a few lessons from unpacking boxes, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of them.

#1 – Friends are indispensable.  And I mean indispensable.

A few months ago when we finally nailed down our moving date and settled on the week of February 20th, AFTER, mind you, calls had been made to the moving company and all the details were in place and the contract signed, at that point, my mom called and said, “Sweetie, you know that’s the week I am going to visit my friend, Dottie, in Savannah.”  Well, now, isn’t that nice for you.  And just to pour vinegar in the wound, she then extended her stay with Dottie from staying one week to staying two.  Mom literally came back to Houston the day, I mean the day, I unpacked my last box.

I have to admit, I was a little panicky on the inside when she told me about Savannah: who would watch Mia Grace when the moving truck showed up at my house?  How would I pick up my girls from school?  Who would bring us homemade banana bread for breakfast, bright flowers for the new spot in the kitchen, and a pot of soup to eat for lunch and dinner?  Because, as much as I am throwing my mom under the bus here, you have to understand one thing: my mom is AMAZING.  If there is a need, she’s on it.  If I’m dying inside and about to lose it on the outside, mom steps in and gives me a break.  As my husband likes to say, “Susan is a gamer.”  Her answer is “Yes” before the question has time to hang in the air.  So, to be honest and fair, I was glad mom was in Savannah for the move.  She needed a break and has unpacked enough of her own moving boxes the past five years, so Savannah was the perfect place for her to be while my whole house was in the back of a truck.

But the answer to my inner panic ended up being: my friends.  My friends showed up with lattes in hand and box cutters in the other.  Corey and Jenny unpacked my kitchen while I was at our Mickey Way house getting the last of our things out.  Melissa showed up with caffeine right at the point I needed it and then brought us dinner the next day.  My sister-in-laws (who are some of my best friends – they are all amazing) brought us a full-on lunch spread, complete with a box of La Croix (thank you, Cara), let my girls come over and play on a perpetual basis and made us brownies in our oven to disguise the musty odor smell in our new house and put bright flowers in the new spot in my kitchen (thank you, Haley), took Mia Grace for the entire day we moved (God bless you, Robin), and took the girls to lunch and the park to play over the weekend so Jason and I could unpack the TEN BOXES OF STUFF FROM HIS CLOSET (thank you, Ana).

Jenny took Mia Grace for the day after we moved and fed her Chick-fil-a and let her swim naked in her pool so I could unpack the girls’ rooms and find their softball socks.

Kimberly brought us one of her delicious homemade dinners, and the morning the movers showed up, at the exact moment I realized I had forgotten to set aside breakfast food and we had NO-THING to eat that morning, Kristen texted me and said, “I was about to order some breakfast tacos and muffins.  Can I bring you some as well?”  Seriously?  And she also let me borrow her hat since my hair was going on day five of not being washed and was becoming an air pollution problem.  Lindsay brought me chocolate and carbohydrates at intervals throughout the move (because when you move, chocolate, carbohydrates, and caffeine become your three major food groups), and Tiffany, Kristen, and Corey all took my three big girls on our home school days and did every last drop of school work with them.

I.  Was.  Amazed.  Amazed.  God met each and every one of our needs before I knew I had them through my friends.  “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).  My friends lived out these words of Jesus for me up close and personal, and through them, I learned more of what being a friend really looks like on a practical, real, day in and day out basis.  I am someone prone to romanticizing life in general.  In my head, laying one’s life down for my friends looks like dying a martyr’s death and taking a bullet for them the next time we are all in a war zone together.  But practically and realistically, laying one’s life down looked like loving on my toddler or home-schooling my kids.  It looked like chicken tortilla soup on my stove and homemade brownies in my oven.  Bullets may or may not come one day, but opportunities to really and truly be a friend abound.  My friends taught me that.

#2 – Moving is a great time to clean out all your husband’s man piles.

What, you may ask, is a man pile?  Here is a picture of one, one that did not come from my husband’s side of the bathroom but from a friend’s husband’s side of the bathroom, simply to prove that man piles are universal and not only problematic in the Baker household:

A man pile is a pile of man stuff stashed in the cracks and crevices of a closet, under a bed, in a bedside drawer, lining the walls of a man’s study, or caking the sides of every cabinet underneath the bathroom sink.  Man piles are found in places and contain things you had no idea existed until a team of movers shows up at your house to clear everything out of the way and packs up ten boxes of man pile stuff from a bedroom closet meant to hold two boxes.  Stuff like bags of Christmas stocking gifts from five years ago, including fly swatters, false teeth, and ten pair of wool dress socks with the tags still attached.  Stuff like random toothpicks and knives and shoe polish kits and dental flossers and razors and hotel samples they get for free and feel the need to save for decades at a time.  Stuff like pens and pads of paper and crafts your kids have given them since their first day of preschool that they didn’t know what to do with and so stashed in man piles in their closets and bedside drawers.  Stuff like shoe horns and collar stays and cuff links mixed in with boxes of matches, cuticle creams, and empty shot gun shells.

I am overjoyed to tell you that for the moment, the Baker house is a man-pile-free-zone.  I got clear plastic bins and labeled everything Jason could possibly want to put in them – I even have one that says, “Belt Buckle Polish Rags.”  I am happy to report that we now have only three in our possession instead of thirty, and I am hopeful that with the clear plastic bin system, we can begin to cut down on our man piles, at least for a month or two.

#3 – IKEA makes a great place for a date night.

Once you clear out all your man piles and have a sense of what is needed to maintain order in your new space, when your husband calls you and says, “Let’s get a babysitter so we can go to dinner and talk face to face without boxes,” you say, “Sounds incredible, but after dinner, can we go to IKEA?”, it makes for an ideal post-moving date night.  Where else can you have great conversation with the man-pile-maker you love and then go purchase the ideal metal shelf for just $29.99, a shower curtain liner, and a gigantic pretzel all in one place?

#4 – Do not leave your toddler unattended in an empty house with a stool and running water they can reach while having a conversation with movers. While moving the stool to “wash their hands,” they will end up taking a full-on bath in the sink and have to remain in wet clothes for the duration of your two hour stay at the house.

#4 – God is not packed in a box. 

Let’s be honest here – moving is stressful.  There are so many details to remember and things to worry about.  And while I felt like I was trusting God on the outside, on the inside, whenever I had a quiet moment, my heart would race and my thoughts would turn at a rate of a mile a minute.  I had to purposefully tell my body as well as my inward thoughts to slow down and trust the Lord.

At times, it felt as if I had packed God in a box and would pull Him out again whenever I had a moment to slow down and pull Him out from all the paper.  It was tempting, even, to relegate Him to a box and to put communion with Him on hold until my earthly treasure was situated, organized, and ready to go.

And then I read this four days into our move: “If our greatest treasure – communion with the living God – is safe, of what can we be afraid?  Yet we are afraid of so many things.  So our fears can serve an important purpose – they show us where we have really located our heart’s treasure.  Follow the pathway of the fear back into your heart to discover the things you love more than God” (Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, February 19th).

And I’ve been unpacking that paragraph ever since.

When my heart starts to race, and my thoughts start to churn at 3am, I try to trace my anxiety back to what I am treasuring more than God.  During the day, when I begin to be overcome by weariness or even a slight depression about all that still remains on my task list, and the perfection that is always an illusion but never quite in reach, I try to trace my fear back to its source…and realize how it pales in comparison to trusting my true treasure, the living God.

Moving has been an exercise in trust.  And God has proved faithful.  He has proved over and over again He is trustworthy.  And I have great news: communion with Him was not in a box stashed away somewhere where it took me days, weeks, or even months to find.  He was not accidentally thrown away in mounds of paper, and He was not jostled or broken or dropped in the back of a truck or damaged by human hands.  He was ever and always fully, immediately, and completely accessible – in all of His beauty and glory – at all times.  In every stressful second.  In every weary moment.  And I became aware, perhaps for the very first time, how much thanks I owed the Lord that He allowed me to have access to the greatest treasure I have ever known – communion with Him – through the person of Jesus Christ at every moment of every day.

Moving is not for the faint of heart; but it is a good exercise in strengthening our heart.  It helps us hold onto our greatest treasure in realizing how every other treasure pales in comparison to ceaseless communion with Christ.

#5 – And last, but not least, a house is not a house unless it has a few animal heads in it.

When Jason and I discussed what furniture to take to our temporary house and what to put into storage, all our conversation centered around the words minimal and survival.  We were taking only what was necessary to survive for a year and putting the rest into storage.  So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the living room of our temporary house, and saw, on the floor, taking up almost the entire square footage of the breakfast room/living room/family room area, one mounted deer head, one antelope, and three mounted deer skulls complete with antlers.  I’m sorry, but how do five mounted animal heads fall into the category of minimalist, essential, or necessary for life and survival?  I am so thankful my friend Jenny was standing there with me when we opened the door and saw all of the antlers grazing on the floor.  My frustration quickly evaporated into hysterics, and we soon were laughing so hard we were wiping tears off of our cheeks thinking about where all of these animal heads were going to fit in our small, garage-less house.

So meet Andrew the Antelope.  He keeps watch over our living room/dining room/school room area:

And here is Ralph, who gazes serenely over the beds of Lillian, Lizzie, and Caroline, much to Lizzie’s consternation:

And here are Deer Skull #1 and Deer Skull #3, both over a chair in the room dubbed “the study”:

And Deer Skull #3 has made his home on our outdoor porch.  He is the only one who didn’t make the indoor cut (thank You, Lord):

As one friend, Rachel Hollister, so wisely said it: “I secretly love and despise moving all at the same time.  It seems overwhelming, but it is so worth the purging.”  While our move was hectic and tiring and overwhelming, it was also a template on which I saw the grace of God drawn out through the hands of my friends and the stability of God’s Presence and His Word readily available and never lost, discarded, or hiding in a box.  And while I don’t want to move again for a while, I am thankful for the lessons unpacking a few boxes taught me.  Prayerfully, they are helpful to you, too.

Don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook this week for more encouragement on unpacking boxes and the grace of God.

And as you get ready to make the final push from spring into summer, consider making Waiting on the Lord part of your journey and take the time to grow, journey, and walk with the Lord no matter what season of life you are in.