Suitcases and Simplicity

The agent at the counter seemed amazed at the baggage weight – 49.5 lbs. The second, third and fourth bags all weighed 49.5 lbs. or 50 lbs. as well. Years of packing and repacking suitcases have made me an expert at putting as many items as possible in a single bag without going over the weight limit. However, years of living overseas have also taught me the value of simplicity.

After spending time serving as a short-term worker and then raising support for career “service”, I couldn’t wait to arrive in South Africa. My bags were packed; the Rubbermaid containers were shipped. All was well. Finally I would have all of my things in the same country and in my own apartment. The stress of purchasing appliances and furniture was real, but the joy of choosing what I wanted and decorating in my own style felt wonderful.

Two weeks after moving into my apartment the joy was gone when a home invasion turned my life upside down, forcing me to leave most of my things behind and return to the States. Furniture I had chosen ended up being put into storage, and my belongings returned to their places in Rubbermaid containers. After I made the decision not to return to South Africa, some items were sold, while others were shipped back to the States. I grieved the loss of what was supposed to be – an apartment full of all of my own things, new furniture and fun décor. However, I learned that bright, shiny new things aren’t as important as my life and my emotional and mental well-being.

When I headed back overseas a little over a year later, I prepared myself for life in a furnished apartment. I carefully packed my bags, leaving room for plenty of personal touches from home. I was returning to Portugal, a country where I had lived before, so personal décor and kitchen items took precedence over clothing. (I already knew how to get the shopping mall!) As I adjusted back to life and ministry in Portugal, I began to make the apartment I shared with two other co-workers feel more like home. A few items from Ikea, a bit of scrapbook paper, some fresh flowers – all made the apartment feel more like our own space. Those two years in Portugal taught me that small, inexpensive touches help a temporary place feel more like a permanent home.

Over a year ago I moved to Ireland. Another furnished apartment, a few more Ikea purchases, décor items from home, and a different perspective. The furniture in my apartment is similar to something I would have chosen, the dishes in the cupboard are as well, and the items I brought fit perfectly with the style of the apartment. While I’m not a tremendous fan of the red carpet and striped curtains, I’ve adjusted to them. And this time around I’ve focused on purchasing only the absolute necessities, on making do with fewer of my own things and more borrowed things.

It took me months to finally purchase a fruit bowl because I wasn’t sure if it was a wise use of money. But after years of living like this, it seems normal. The dreams of my own place with all of my own things have faded. Living with half of my belongings in one country and the other half in another doesn’t bother me so much. I’ve learned that living simply is freeing.

While my full suitcases have taught me several lessons about stuff and simplicity, I have a much harder time translating simplicity into how I view my ministry. The fear of not doing enough or not being enough often overtakes me. I feel as though I’m not doing a good job because I’m not busy enough or haven’t built enough relationships with people. I’m still learning that less can be more when it comes to ministry too. While I might not think there are enough opportunities for me at the moment, the role I am playing is important. The administrative tasks I complete and the women I meet for coffee are just as important as having a long list of contacts and a ministry commitment every night of the week.

A simpler schedule enables me to spend more time in prayer, to grab coffee with someone at the last-minute, to encourage friends who live far away, to open my home to teammates and friends. I’m learning to enjoy the simplicity of ministry right now, to appreciate the unrushed time with the Lord, to look for and take advantage of the opportunities God brings.

Have you struggled with adjusting to simplicity in your ministry? How has God used the quieter times of ministry to prepare you for the busier times?

21 Comments

  1. Anisha July 24, 2014

    Simplicity is so important! I’m a firm believer in not letting stuff get in the way of relationships and ministry. We try to live as close as possible to the standards of the people we serve and try to be open with any extra things we have in order to bless others. I think the American dream of owning a home and filling it with all our nice things can be difficult to shake off. Even when we try to be intentional about it.

    1. Laura July 24, 2014

      Anisha,

      You are right about the American dream being hard to shake off. I find I have to be a lot more intentional about it when I’m actually in the States, then when I’m overseas. But either way, it’s not easy.

  2. Debbie July 24, 2014

    I’m keeping this in mind as we decide what stays and what goes as we also leave South Africa.

    1. Laura July 24, 2014

      Debbie,

      I’m glad you found it helpful. Making decisions about what to take and what to leave behind is never particularly fun; hope the decisions and the packing go smoothly.

  3. Kate July 24, 2014

    Oh yes, I’ve had those 49.5 pound suitcases many times .. it’s an art form.  😉  Blessings to you in your ongoing ministry, and thank you for sharing your heart.

    1. Laura July 24, 2014

      Kate,

      Thank you. And, yes, it is an art form!

  4. morielle July 24, 2014

    Amen amen to the bit about simplicity in ministry   I have been learning the Lord needs openings in my schedule, flexibility in my mindset, and a heart opened and quieted by time in reflection and prayer to acctually do His work with me    Funny how in many ways my determination to work for him really just gets in the way     I love everything about this post, but especially thevlast bit

    1. Laura July 24, 2014

      Morielle,

      I appreciate what you say about determination to work actually getting in the way. And I find it such a struggle for me with my “stay busy, accomplish tasks” personality and mindset to not let my determination get in the way.

    2. Sarah W July 24, 2014

      Morielle,

      I`m writing this in my journal: `The Lord needs openings in my schedule, flexibility in my mindset, and a heart opened and quieted by time in reflection and prayer to actually do His work with me`.

      All too often I feel I am busy attempting to prove how hard I am working for Him with my packed schedule, valuing efficiency above intimacy, and accomplishment above relationship both with Father and with those I am ministering with and to.

      Thank you for such a beautifully worded reminded of the need for margins of space to invite God to work. 🙂

  5. Ruth July 24, 2014

    Living more simply is one of the things I really appreciate about living overseas.  Moving frequently and fitting belongings into suitcase allowances definitely help with paring things down, although I am still always amazed (and frustrated) by the accumulation that naturally happens.  It’s really hard to get away from the tendency to accumulate, but I think can be much overseas.  It doesn’t take me long back in the States before I start seeing the big houses filled with matching furniture and lots of stuff as normal and wish I had more.  Fortunately most of the time I can compare myself with my neighbors and recognize how much we have.

    I also really appreciated your point about simplicity in ministry.  I need to think more about that.  I think in some ways leaving extra space in life makes us panic.  Particularly in a ministry context, surely that means we aren’t being as effective!  But I can think of many times my agenda and to-do list and pressing plans have gotten in the way of opportunities.

    1. Laura July 24, 2014

      Ruth,

      Yes, busyness and effectiveness seem to be so connected in our minds. And knowing most people who read my updates have the same mindset makes it difficult to not make myself sound busier than I actually am.

  6. Beth July 24, 2014

    **The fear of not doing enough or not being enough often overtakes me. I feel as though I’m not doing a good job because I’m not busy enough or haven’t built enough relationships with people.**

    Can I hear an amen to that! I am such a mess when it comes to building relationships and not doing enough for GOD! My so called busyness is actually a sham for not letting any one in and not being there for someone else. It is a protective part of my heart that has been shattered from a messy past.

    Simplicity is the most difficult thing…but the most freeing.

    The last trip to Nica we were overpacked. So I ended up with 2.5 additional pounds of white t-shirts in my miraculous carry on back pack. The more stuff we take over the better I feel.

    Reality though is my Nica wants a relationship with us. AND though that is terrifying it is freeing…if I can just let go of my stuff :)…packing and emotions included

    it all works out. Our last short term there was mind blowing. Confirmation left and right about the fact this place is to be our future home. I simply came to God. I was a wreck before the trip. I had zero emotions to bring and that is right where my heavenly Father had me be…

    Live simply to simply live…in the calling of God…

     

  7. Laura July 24, 2014

    Beth,

    Thank you for sharing about how God is leading in your life and how He’s teaching you about the freedom that comes when we live simply.

  8. Brittany July 24, 2014

    It seemed so easy to me.  After 2 years of marriage, we ended up selling most of our possessions and moving in with my in-laws to prepare for moving overseas.  3 more years of marriage, three more moves, 2 children later…we finally made it overseas.  Every move we would get rid of more stuff and wonder how we could possibly accumulate when we live in one bedroom!  But still, compared to everyone else we know (in America, anyway), we are minimalists!

    Here in the field (it’s only been 9 months so I’m giving myself lots of grace), I’m realizing how much I still hold on to stuff.  I want stuff to fill my apartment and make it feel like home, I want stuff to make spending all day every day in my kitchen a little more convenient.  I want things from home that I thought I could live without, but I just don’t know if I want to.  And oh my goodness, with KIDS…they come with their own load of “stuff”.

    So…needless to say, I don’t have it figured out yet.  But I’m learning…

    1. Laura July 24, 2014

      Brittany,

      Yes, it’s amazing how many things we can end up with, even with minimal living space. And I can only imagine the stuff you accumulate with kids around. Although I know that as an aunt, I don’t necessarily help in that area when it comes to my nieces and nephew.

  9. JulieB July 24, 2014

    Love this…..and the freedom of simplicity!  In our early marriage we lived overseas for 2 years.  Then back to America  for life and ministry for the next 33 years or so…..27 in the same big house.  We raised our kids, hosted many M’s, had about a half dozen international students live with us.  Wonderful, great memories.

    Then……we started to de-clutter.  We sold or gave away most of our stuff, quit our jobs and sold our cars, but we still have our wonderful memories in our hearts.  We moved overseas about a year ago in our “new ministry job”  and “started over” thanks to Ikea and some purchases from other expats who were returning home.  Our new apartment home is homey and comfortable and a lot simpler. We do have a few things on the walls that we have always had in our home.

    We have found that simplicity brings freedom.  All kinds of freedom.  Freedom to spend more time with God and with the people He brings to us.  Freedom for ministry, freedom from the burden of stuff.  Simplicity and freedom – a new enjoyment in this season of life!

  10. Laura July 24, 2014

    Julie,

    Thanks for your thoughts as someone who drastically simplified before heading overseas. It’s encouraging to hear how living simply has brought you freedom because it’s easy to look at what some at home have and think about how nice it would be to have what they have.

  11. Michele Call July 24, 2014

    I enjoyed reading about your experiences. My family is about to make our first big overseas move to Uruguay(we have lived in Mexico and several states in the US, so we’ve always driven our belongings in a move). I will be facing packing for the airplane trip for our family of 9 in just a couple of months. The hardest thing for me is knowing how much will fit. We have 18 check-in bags and 9 carry on bags allotted to us, but I really don’t know how much that will fit, nor do I even know if all that luggage will fit in a van as we ride to the airport! And we actually got rid of most of our belongings 6 months ago and have been living in a travel trailer raising funding. So 6 months into complete simplicity (no electric kitchen appliances, bare bones clothes, only tiny space for groceries) I can say that I love having less. Except for those times when I really need or want something from the past that is!

    1. Laura July 25, 2014

      Michelle,

      I still struggle with knowing how much will actually fit into my suitcases. And I’m usually wrong, which means a pile of things end up left behind. Oddly enough, I rarely miss those things once I’m actually on the field. Praying you survive all of the packing you will be doing in the next couple of months.

  12. Jo Beth June 9, 2015

    Excellent post, Laura.  The simplicity issue is a major challenge, in my opinion.  And I find that it sneaks in at different seasons and catches us off guard:  “I thought I had already learned how to travel light?  What’s my problem?”  You are right on with the reminder that it certainly brings freedom.  Thanks!

    1. Laura June 9, 2015

      Jo Beth,

      Thank you! I agree; living simply is definitely a challenge that doesn’t seem to go away.

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