Monday, November 05, 2007

Stuff, the Magic Dragon...

I've been thinking a lot about "stuff" lately. I don't mean that I'm engaging in philosophical or spiritual ponderings about life. I mean that I am thinking about literal "stuff" -- furniture, floors, walls, papers, books, heirlooms, junk, paint colors, bed coverings, Christmas preparations, etc.

DH and I have been married for a wonderful twenty-seven years this month! Frankly, it's time to re-feather our nest. In the words of Edgar Guest, our seven-year-old house already shows signs of "a whole heap o' living". (What happened to that shiny new look?!) And, the old furnishings within the house are, as we say in the South, "plum wore out". Most of our things need replacing or refurbishing. It will be fun to re-vamp our dwelling as I have time and money.

Because we've moved several times in our marriage, we've been inclined to dispose of junk rather than to lug it from state to state. That has been a blessing. But even though we never tell "stuff" our latest address, it seems to seek us out, anyway. Somehow, it pushes its way into our current home in the form of little chips and wires needed for my husband's business, papers related to mine, the items that breed in a junk drawer, unwanted mail, items that simply get out of place, etc. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about!

So, while I'm itching for us to get at radical decluttering and deep cleaning, as well as home maintenance and decorating projects, I'm also pondering the role of "stuff" in my life. Of course, as a keeper at home, I was faced with this question about as soon as we got back from our honeymoon. In the course of our daily lives, we all have to set priorities for our finances. Part of that is deciding where we will live, what we will give, what we will save, and what we will spend. Part of that is deciding what "stuff" we really need and truly want and what "stuff" we can do without. The process of keeping a home neat and clean also involves deciding what to keep and what to toss. I try to keep a weekly watch on clutter, so that it does not accumulate into one huge mess.

However, this question of "stuff" has taken on a new aspect as I'm moving into that cusp between middle-age and the senior years. During this time, I've wavered between two opposing temptations.

On the one hand, as I feel the first twinges of aging in my body, I find that I crave material comfort and security more than I did when I was younger. I feel myself wanting to "settle in" and "get cozy". The thing is that I know that I can get out of balance here. It's one thing to accommodate the realities of diminishing vigor and to prepare oneself financially for the future; it's another to become self-indulgent and self-focused. If I let myself go there, I will stagnate in my relationship to God. I'll also miss out on living life to the full, as Jesus meant for us to.

Statistically speaking, if the Lord wills, I should have several productive and joyful decades ahead of me, yet. I pray to spend that time growing closer to the Lord and serving Him in whatever ways He has planned for me. (Ephesians 2:9-11) It's way too early to take to my rocking chair!

On the other hand, I'm thinking a lot about what legacy I will leave behind me one day, and I'm certain that I don't want my legacy to be a house full of "stuff". I'm a little morbidly focused on that right now, as I'm being repeatedly confronted with that old truth: You can cart it from house to house, but you really can't take it with you when you finally go!

There was a stage in my life when I attended lots and lots of weddings and baby showers and very, very few funerals. Now, I still attend weddings and baby showers, for which I am grateful to the Lord! But, as I get older, I naturally find myself going to more and more funerals. My 88 year old father attends even more.

Since my father is living in an assisted living center, and my parents-in-law are downsizing to a retirement community, I am around many people whose stewardship of earthly things is just about done. I have learned that it is a blessing when older people enter their waning years with the financial resources they need for their own care. I've also seen that when elderly people have not been able to save these resources, God can provide.

I've also seen that parents can burden their children by leaving too much stuff behind. It's hard for a grieving child to sort through a house crammed with things accumulated in his late parents' decades of marriage. If the child is under pressure to dispose of the property quickly, he or she can find it heart-wrenching to make all the little decisions required: "Should we keep this? Should we sell this in a garage sale? Should we give this to Aunt Sally? Which one of us kids should have this? Should we just throw this old thing away?"

In a time of grief, it's hard to look at stuff objectively. Even a box of papers that has no real meaning to the child or to anyone else can be hard to toss out; it feels to the child as if he is tossing out a bit of his recently departed parent along with the papers.

Also, the child or grandchild who is left to weed through the parents' stuff usually has a spouse and children to take care of, as well. Life doesn't usually stop just so that adult children can have plenty of time to think about what needs to be done with what.

So, now, when I think about buying something or if I'm deciding whether to keep something, I picture my grown children having to do something with it one day. I am one who ordinarily struggles with sentimentality when it comes to keeping books, little gifts other people have given me, books, cooking equipment, books, decorative items, books, things belonging to my now grown children and, did I say, BOOKS! So, while I may thinking a little morbidly right now, I suppose that on some level, this is good discipline for me.

I do want to be considerate of my children, here. An even better motivation might be to think about "traveling light" so that I can spend more time loving God and people while I am alive than I spend in the maintenance of things. Whenever I let clutter get out of hand, I find that things consume precious time and energy -- resources that could be spent elsewhere. The things begin to own me, and I begin to serve them, rather than using them as gifts from the Lord. An attractively neat house, in which everything is generally in place, reall does take less time to maintain than one that is perpetually untidy.

Better yet, it would be good to think about "stuff" in light of giving to those who are in real need.

This season of my life really does remind me of an important truth that Jesus told us:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I have many friends who traveled this weekend to the funeral of a woman who died suddenly and with no prior warnings of health problems at the age of 56. I did not know her, myself, though I do know her through the impact her life made on so many people whom I know.

Almost two decades ago, her husband had a lucrative medical practice in a large U.S. city. They gave up his large income and sold most of their possessions. They moved to the Ivory Coast of Africa, where they founded a mission clinic. I'm sure that when they left they did not know that they had found their life's work: living among and ministering to those who were suffering from the HIV/AIDS crisis there. Nor, could they have guessed that they have guessed that they would start similar hospitals in 16 other African countries or that they would raise their three children mostly on the mission field. It was only this year that they came back to work in the U.S. Of this woman, I believe that we can say, "Her treasures and her heart are in heaven, and she has only followed them to her true home."

For now, at least, dear hubby and I are where we believe God has placed us -- in the suburbs of Nashville, TN. So, in keeping with where we are placed and if the Lord wills, I do want to work on our home little by little, refurbishing our nest. At the same time, I want to keep "stuff" in its proper perspective.


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