During the course of a seminary career, a seminarian moves a total of four times in four years. This is assuming, of course, that you don’t live in St. Louis or Fort Wayne when you first begin. In 2015, we moved to St. Louis. This summer we will move for my husband’s vicarage placement. The following summer, we will move back to St. Louis for one more academic year. And then in 2019, we will move for Sam’s first call. In anticipating our move this summer, I am, of course, spending an embarrassing amount of time thinking about packing and unpacking.
As I contemplate what it means to live life in transition, I’ve found myself thinking quite a bit about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. It seemed like the logical place to turn. These people knew a lot about life in transition and the unique temptations that go along with it. They knew what it meant to yearn for a place. They knew what it meant to journey. As I scour Exodus, looking for practical moving tips and desperately wishing one of the Israelite mothers had left behind a journal titled Traveling with Small Children, I am amazed. This story, this history, is filled with the promise of God’s provision. I do not find a ten-step guide to packing, but I find something far better.
The thing that keeps amazing me about this journey is that the Israelites encamped whenever they stopped. They didn’t just pull over and sleep on the ground. They set up tents, they gathered food, they cooked, they washed clothes, they lived. Even though the Israelites were living in a time of waiting and transition, there were still children to feed, babies to be born, marriages to celebrate, funerals to perform. And even in the midst of all of their moving, community happened.
Anticipating three moves in three years with three small children is exhausting. I find myself wondering what steps I could skip. Maybe if I only unpack some of our dishes on vicarage, it will make life easier. But unpacking only a few dishes will also be a constant reminder that my situation is temporary. Fewer dishes would mean that we would extend fewer dinner invitations, enjoy fewer guests. The act of unpacking makes a statement. I wonder, if I hesitate to unpack dishes or clothes, would I also hesitate to unpack my heart and my life? Keeping a piece of me—my gifts, talents, time—in a box until we are finally settled in our call. What would I miss out on then?
But we all do it, don’t we? In big ways and small ways, we wait. We wait for our house to be clean enough or our schedule to be open enough. We wait for our paycheck to be a bit bigger or our to-do list a bit smaller. We talk ourselves out of the life happening right in front of us. We make choices to keep a part of our life, our heart, and our schedule packed up, waiting for the next thing.
Author and speaker Jill Briscoe said, “Go where you’re sent, stay where you’re put, unpack. And give what you’ve got until you’re done.” There really is something to it. Unpacking. Calling this house my home, this church my community, these neighbors my friends, even if it’s only for a year or two, even if it’s only for a day.