I’m overweight on a serious weight reduction program. Although, you can’t tell from my picture, I need to lose hundreds of pounds by May without the help of Jared or Jenny. The weight I have to lose is household stuff. (Stuff is my Baptist word.)I’m moving and my employer won’t move more than 14 thousand pounds stuff. We moved here three years ago with 13,800 pounds of stuff, but the problem is we’ve been to Disney 12,000 times since then.
How do you get rid of stuff? You can sell stuff, donate stuff, throw stuff away or store stuff. But no matter where you stuff your stuff, you never really get rid of your stuff. It finds you again, because it has your name on it, your bite marks in it and your scent all over it. Your stuff reincarnates as new stuff. Your stuff is like one of those cats that returns home after three years of living in Peoria.
Let me explain how it works at my house. If I want a new TV, I wait until it’s time to move. I start whining about how useless it is to move an old TV. “Why don’t we just sell it? We don’t need all this stuff,” I suggest to my wife. Then, when we get to our new place, I feign stupidity for getting rid of our TV. “Looks like we need a new one,” I suggest. 15 years of using that technique and we’ve all kinds of stuff.
So the problem remains – how do you decide what goes and what stays?
It seems like the decision about stuff was simpler in September of 99 when Hurricane Floyd was cocked and loaded a hundred miles off Cape Canaveral. In preparation for the blow, we put shutters over the shell that held our stuff. With each screw I tightened, I felt like I would end up on the wrong end of that screw.
With the house darkened in a shell, my engineer friend came over to make sure I had a place to go. He knew I was from California and earthquakes were much more to my liking.
Truth is, I was longing for a real good earthquake about then. Earthquakes aren’t so bad. They are like putting all your stuff in a shake-and-bake bag. Your stuff gets messed up, but when pour out the contents, your stuff is still there – in thousands of pieces – but still there.
In a hurricane, your stuff blows into next week and one week starts to look like the next. Your neighbor’s stuff is on your door and your stuff is in China. I’d prefer an earthquake where at least I can find my stuff. I might not recognize it as my stuff, but at least, if it is in my pile, it is my stuff.
I told my friend about my preference for earthquakes, but he ignored me and transitioned into “engineer speak.” He calculated the wind strength, elevation of A1A and the elevation of our house. As he talked about the rising tide he delivered a serious conclusion with a joking smile.
“Don’t worry,” he said, holding his hand above his head and marking a spot against the wall, “the water will rise to about here. It won’t flood your entire house.”
After he left I went about trying to put my kids back together. They were going through their stuff, washing it with their tears, trying to figure out what was too important to lose. Truth is, I was doing the same thing. Just before the friend’s visit, it had seemed like we were doing all the right things to protect our stuff.
Jesus once had a visitor who also felt like he was doing everything right to protect his stuff. He had kept the laws of his religion and done all the right things since childhood, but he still lacked a spiritual center. He approached Jesus to ask him what must he do to become whole.
Jesus told him to obey the laws of his religion, but the man insisted that he had done all those things since childhood. Then, sensing that the man was still imprisoned, told him that there was still one thing he lacked – “go and sell all your ‘stuff’ and give the profit to the poor and your treasure will be in heaven.”
The scripture tells us that he the man left sorrowful because he could not bear to lose his stuff – even if it meant saving his soul. “What does it profit a man,” Jesus would later ask, “if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
If this rich young man could not decide what stuff was important, how was I going to decide in the face of this hurricane?
The answer came the next day as I followed my wife’s car over the causeway evacuation route. At Pineda and Highway 1, our planned separation point, she continued west and I turned north to an evacuation shelter where I served as shelter chaplain.
Just a few hundred yards before our cars separated, I was still pondering whether I had forgotten any important stuff, when I saw the answer. Pressed up against the back glass of my wife’s station wagon were my four kids waving good-bye kisses. “No worries,” I thought as the tears welled, “I’ve remembered all the important stuff.”