SPACED OUT, STRESSED OUT

I am once again packing a suitcase for Ecuador. No, not because I am going again (wish I was!), but because I have an opportunity to send some things down to the Naranjos with friends who are going to visit them. You might be wondering how I could possibly have another full suitcase for them when I was just there a few months ago and took everything but the kitchen sink with me at that time. I look at that suitcase myself and am a little amazed, too!

Most of that large bag is filled with clothes for Fernando. A friend had a huge stack of clothes that were brand new and never worn and, miraculously, just Fernando’s size! The friends going to Ecuador were more than happy to take whatever we needed to send and told us to go ahead and fill up the suitcase as long as it didn’t go overweight. So, there are nice hand-me-down clothes for Matthew that I couldn’t fit in the last time I went, birthday gifts for Sara and Matthew (b-days coming up in April), wireless microphones for the church, matzo bread for the Biblical dinners Fernando does, and cans of cherry and blueberry pie filling, chocolate chips and Hershey kisses for Laurie. And of course, this Grandma can’t send a suitcase down there without throwing in a little surprise for each of the kids!

I started packing the bag last night and finally realized there was no way it would all fit in without using space bags for the clothes again. Those new-fangled little contraptions are quite the thing. Well, I suppose they aren’t so new-fangled anymore. They’ve been around for several years, but my first experience at using them was when I went to Ecuador in November. You’ve probably seen them advertised on TV. You put the clothes or blankets or whatever in a space bag, seal it, attach a vacuum hose and suck all the air out of the bag. It totally flattens the bag, making an almost flat, hard and wrinkly package. They worked great for me the last time. I was a little worried the clothes would be all wrinkled when I took them out of the space bags, but actually they weren’t too bad. Of course, you still have to be careful about the weight when you’re flying, but it sure helps to get a little more into a suitcase.

They say those space bags are handy for storage in the home, as well. Closet space is at a premium in my house. This is an old house (over eighty years old) and they just didn’t make closets back then the way they do now. The closets in our bedrooms upstairs are narrow – barely a hangar width – and although they are somewhat deep, it is difficult to reach the back of the closet. The small door is at one end and once there are clothes in the front of the closet, it is almost impossible to reach past them to the things in the back. A walk-in closet would be a huge luxury for me! Never fear, though. I have a huge closet downstairs called a basement. I pity my daughters if we die before I get around to cleaning it out!

I suppose space bags are a sign of the times, as are all the other space-saving gadgets and gizmos we see for sale these days. There are whole aisles in the stores devoted to plastic bins and totes, organizer systems, cabinets, wardrobes and so on. I recently bought a box of Wonder Hangers – another “As Seen on TV” gadget that holds five garments in the closet space that would normally hold only one – in an effort to maximize my closet space. Builders keep building bigger homes with huge closets and even bigger garages, and still we need a great big storage shed on top of that! When we get all those spaces filled up, back to the store we go for more storage bins!

Does it seem to you that maybe we just have too much stuff? There is a reason closets were small eighty years ago when our house was built. People did not have all that stuff! The only things they had in their closets were the clothes they wore. When they outgrew something, they passed it on; otherwise, they wore their clothes until they wore out. They weren’t shopping for new things every other week. Even if I fit into everything in my closet (which I don’t), I could never wear everything in it if I tried! My basement is filled with forty years worth of books, memorabilia, equipment, and things for which I’ve barely spared a passing glance in decades. It’s time to clear out!

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Why are we so consumed with material things, anyway? If I spent less at Wal-Mart on things I don’t really need, I would have more to give to those who do have needs, or for things that have real eternal value. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) Why fill up my earthly home with worthless stuff, when Christ is preparing a mansion for me in heaven?
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Those humble little space bags are a picture to me, as well, of another characteristic of our modern, American lifestyles. Not only do we have a space management problem, but we also have stress management problems. I look at those hard, flat, wrinkly vacuum-sealed packages and am reminded of how the demands of family, work, extra-curricular activities and the general busy-ness of life can suck the energy, passion and joy right out of our lives. Staying home with Robbie allows me a more relaxed lifestyle, but I feel for some of the women who are closest to me. Between caring for little ones, home-schooling several ages at once, babysitting grandchildren after working a demanding job all day, running kids from one sport or youth activity to another, helping friends, working in the church, being a wife, cooking, cleaning, and all the other things it takes to run a home and family, it is no wonder they are totally drained at the end of the day.

There is not a lot we can do sometimes to alleviate some of the stresses of life – other than to just say “No” to some of the extras that really aren’t necessary, that is. Our families need us, our homes must be cared for, and being a Christian woman just means giving of ourselves. We need to learn to set priorities in our lives, however. I have resolved in my life this year to strive toward making the things of the Lord a greater priority in my life, beginning with a better prayer life and more time spent in the Word. If I put those things first, I am filled and life cannot so easily overwhelm and drain me. I don’t want my life to be hard and flat and wrinkly like those space bags when the vacuum has sucked out all the air. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” When we make Him the priority in our life, He helps us through all these other concerns and challenges. We are not drained, but filled as He blesses us with all that we need.

Our lives in twenty-first century America are vastly different than life was in Jesus’ time in Galilee two thousand years ago, but His principles and promises are just as relevant for us today as they were back then. No need to be spaced out and stressed out when our eyes and values are on Him!

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