sample from “Faith in the Heartland” by Joan Denlinger
The list of risk takers in the Bible is impressive. It includes Abraham striking out, not knowing where he was going…Nehemiah rebuilding the wall against impossible odds…Esther risking the wrath of the king…Daniel risking his neck…Ananias taking a chance by reaching out to a former persecutor named Saul…That same Saul – who became Paul – serving Christ in an itinerant ministry, without a secure income, spending a lifetime planting and strengthening churches…
Risk takers. How we admire their faith!
Following in this train of risk takers is Ron and Joan Denlinger. As you read their story, you’ll find that – as with Abraham – there were lots of unknowns when they left home and family behind and ventured out on what became five years of nomadic living. Similar to the Apostle Paul’s itinerant ministry, all of this was done for the purpose of fulfilling RHMA’s mission of planting and strengthening churches.
I’ll never forget the day my wife, Roxy, and I sat down with Ron and Joan in their home and talked about the possibility of them embarking on a never-been-done-before venture with RHMA. We were apprehensive about how they would respond. As it turned out, they not only embraced the risk-taking venture we envisioned; they took risk taking beyond anything we could have ever imagined!
The pages of this book tell the story of those five years on the road. They contain riveting adventures, all of them happening in the hinterlands of America. As you read, you will find yourself smiling at times, at times bursting into laughter, and even crying a time or two.
The Denlingers show that risk taking isn’t just for people in Bible times. They are modern-day risk-takers whom God mightily used. Once you pick up this book, you will find it nearly impossible to put down. Don’t be surprised if reading it inspires you to think about how you might take a risk for God!
Ron Klassen, Executive Director, Rural Home Missionary Association
In our previous book, Joy in a Foreign Land, Ron and I shared the story of our family being introduced to the unfamiliar world of disabilities through the birth of our first two children. The bookchronicled the progress of our hearts and lives as a young couple facing life with children who could not see, talk, or walk. This all transpired during the launch of a career in church-planting. That book shares the intimate story of how our marriage survived great grief. Through our pain, we learned to reach out to meet the needs of others. God, in his great mercy, extended joy and hope to us where it was least expected.
Many readers expressed that they were helped by Joy in a Foreign Land because of our vulnerability and the principles we highlighted. These encouragements inspired me to write another book. As much as I wanted to jump right in to tell the next big story, I knew I wasn’t quite ready. It would take time to get a clearer picture of what God was doing during those busy days. I consider those my pondering years.
Faith in the Heartland continues our adventure story as God tests our faith in the next phase of our life journey – a literal road trip that would deepen our appreciation of our country, our fellow Christians, ourselves and most importantly, our God.
Our family is not unique in being asked to move into a different arena of life. Many of us have experienced stepping out in faith into a new venture, not knowing how it may turn out. History tells us that none of us are alone in risk taking. Inspiring biographies are written about Christians and world leaders who have taken giant leaps of faith to conquer a task before them. I love to read their stories and discover the heart-determination needed to take the risks they did.
I prefer to live life cautiously and within the realm of my own comfort zone. I have children to nurture, even severely disabled ones. I have bills to pay, food to provide, and a home to keep. Even more, I have a reputation to maintain, a heart that feels deep pain if I fail, and cheeks that burn red when I panic because I can’t see the way forward.
I also realize that I cannot live life fully within the parameters of what is comforting to me, for I am a little kernel of corn in God’s great “field of dreams.” I want to follow the Creator and Designer of this universe to fulfill his plan. He purposed for me a far greater task than I can see.
Frankly, I find that I am not different from most people. We all prefer to stay in secure margins, stepping out only when the view is clear and the destination certain. But for others, an internal longing, a passion, or a dream drive them forward. They risk their lives for a purpose that is bigger than themselves. The hazards they meet along the way only make them stronger for the trek and more determined to overcome. When they succeed, it makes a great story, a movie, or at least an interesting history lesson for your eighth-grade Social Studies class.
Although our family set out on a far less dangerous journey than most in cinema, we shared a similar pattern with others who moved forward in risk-taking adventure: A vision is cast. The challenge of the task is spelled out. Often a death of that vision occurs because the job seems too large. Then follows a reorganizing of the goal; persevering through trial, flexing with reality, then finally – the goal is obtained.
My testimony won’t make the silver screen or the New York Times Best Sellers List, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell the story of God and his amazing love for our family as we took steps of faith to bring glory to him.
My prayer is that those of you who have risked much will recognize in your own story that God’s faithfulness always outshines our faith. We must tell the next generation about his workings in our lives.
For those who are fearful of stepping beyond secure boundaries, I encourage you to try that new idea, develop a friendship, or tackle a tougher job – something you know Christ wants you to do and is nagging in the recesses of your heart. Step out in faith. Experience what God has for you.
Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe once said, “The Christian life is not a parking lot; it is a launching pad. It is not enough to be born again; we must grow spiritually (2 Peter 3:18). God leads us into new experiences that test our faith and help it grow…we cannot mature unless we follow Christ into new areas of faith and ministry.”
In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus, the Master Storyteller, shares a parable of a man going on a journey. Before he leaves, he gives money to his three hired hands. Two of them showed themselves to be prudent and wise – risking their master’s earnings to make more for him. The third “parked” his allowance and it didn’t even earn interest. The master on his return was not pleased with the third servant, casting him out of his employment; whereas the first two employees were granted higher wages and entrusted with more.
Why did our Lord leave us with this story? For many reasons, I am sure. But one reason I do know; he wanted to remind us that his return is near and with it comes an inspection of our service to him while living here on earth. It could be a nail-biting time when the Judge returns if we have not been faithful. Pioneering journeys are never without risk, but they have great potential for gain.
Come along with me in my faith walk and see how God has expanded my boundaries, entrusting me with more.
1 HEARING FROM THE TOUR GUIDE
“Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory… And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:10)
As efficient as a factory worker on an assembly line, I rushed through my daily routine. I patted myself on the back for having everything so well under control and organized. I paused a moment to inspect the work that I had just completed before moving on to the next project.
My 1900 Victorian house proudly radiated after being restored from years of neglect. Ron and I scrubbed, polished, and repainted our first home in Red Hill, Pennsylvania to return it to an expression of its glory days. It had become my delight to keep it an inviting place for our many guests.
A crash from a nearby closet was followed by my four-year-old son, Jeremy, hollering, “It’s ok mom, I just dropped my games, I’ll pick them up!”
“Alright son, just make sure you put all the pieces in the right boxes!” I cringed when I heard my words.
“Why do I have to be such a neat freak?” I thought.
“A place for everything and everything in its place!” I can still hear my second-grade teacher, standing before our class, screeching those words like a drill sergeant.
“Oh dear, I think I must be imitating her!”
There’s no time to analyze my inner psyche. There was much work to do before Ron would come home for dinner. I peeked in on Jeremy before heading to my daughter’s bedroom to make sure he was completing his job.
It was time to take Kari out of her supine stander. At 13 years of age, our daughter Kari was not exactly creating a typical teenager scenario in our home. She required just as much attention as others her age, but it was just different. Confined to a body and mind that functioned like a 6-month-old, the level of activity required for Kari’s daily care was significant. It would register on the Richter scale.
I slowly cranked down the tilt table – a bulky piece of furniture specially designed to strengthen her leg muscles. Gently I held down her knees as I released the straps holding her legs rigid. She winced as her contracted muscles adjusted to being free once again. I breathed a brief prayer for strength as I scooped all sixty pounds of her lanky body out of the wooden contraption, laying her gingerly on her hospital bed.
“What a blessing to have this equipment to help my growing girl!”
Kissing her softly on the cheek, I placed her favorite stuffed dog under her arm. She smiled that precious smile, communicating reassurance to this mama that her girl loved her.
A moment later, I heard the creak of the dining room door, followed by Ron’s voice. “Hello, Honey, where are you?”
“Humph! That’s funny, I didn’t think he would be home this early,” I thought.
Checking that Kari’s arms and legs were positioned correctly, I locked her bed rail and made my way to the kitchen. Ron’s voice sounded urgent and my mind instantaneously went through its files to decipher which church-related issue he might want to discuss. The “boss” had just stepped onto the assembly floor. Without warning, my well-ordered little world was being interrupted and my routine threatened with potential chaos.
“Oh, there you are!” Ron smiled as I entered the kitchen. “Why don’t you have a seat? I have something I need to tell you.”
Every woman who has a “pioneer” for a husband knows that when such words are spoken, she may as well hitch up the horses, pull on her bonnet, and pack the covered wagon. It’s moving time again!
But certainly, that was not what he was about to say. Good grief! We just recently purchased our home, and his work at the church was going so well. I loved this little town of Red Hill and the people with whom we worked so faithfully. I had built relationships with the neighbors. The grocery store, library, church, and bank were all right on my block. Convenience had become my middle name. Surely, he was happy here at this homestead!
Over the next two hours, Ron proceeded to relay to me the conclusion of a telephone conversation that he had with the Executive Director of RHMA (the mission organization with whom we were associated). He was asking Ron to consider a newly developed position of being a pastor to pastors. In this role, he would serve all the RHMA missionaries across the USA and Canada. This would, of course, mean that Ron would have to leave his present pastoral ministry and travel to all the locations where RHMA was working.
Travel is a word that, to adventurous people, brings an instant thrill to the soul like the feeling one gets at the crest of a roller coaster with all the excitement of downhill ahead and the anticipation of the wind whipping through your hair. To others, the word travel brings the dizziness and nausea of a Tilt-a-Whirl and accompanying desperation to get off.
It soon became clear to me what the proposal of this new job would entail: selling our home, living in a recreational vehicle with children year around, selling or storing our cherished belongings, working in many different churches, constantly meeting new people, and saying good-bye to the nine years of relationships that we built in Red Hill. Basically, I was to reshuffle my entire well-orchestrated life. I personally wanted to pull the emergency stop lever on this Tilt-a-Whirl and run.
But being the considerate, spiritual wife that I am, I simply said, “Ron, let’s pray about it and see what God has to say!” Confident that my Lord would certainly protect me from this far-fetched idea, I pushed the on button for my conveyor belt and went back to my assembly work.
The interesting thing about doing tasks that you have done for 16 years is that they don’t require too many tiny gray cells to complete. So, automatically the otherwise unused lobes of my brain became activated with thoughts, emotions, prayers, petitions, and rationales. I then poured them out to God asking him to help me in this time of unsettledness. Could it really be that he would desire for us to move on from our present ministry? Like it or not, a vision was cast.
I had planted my roots to stay. This was the only place my four-year-old son ever called home. I had laid out an educational path workable for this town. I had people who loved me, and a ministry of my own. I was content and growing in the Lord and being challenged by the people of our church. I had found programs for my handicapped daughter and there were medical doctors surrounding me to care for her needs. Okay, it wasn’t Mayberry, but what could a life traveling around like a circus caravan offer over this?
Keeping a quiet heart, one that is free from fretfulness and worry, was not how I would characterize my inner soul. For the past year, this is what I had wanted most from God. I wanted him to train me in the way of a disciplined heart; one that was quick to hear his voice and not distracted by the noise of this world. Now, unfortunately, it was my own grit-filled effort to out-speak him that was the cause of my inability to hear God’s voice.
On this issue of moving, I was making sure that my voice had a megaphone attached. I wanted God to clearly hear all my reasons why he should walk in my will. I desperately wanted to convince God that I had everything under control – just like my son does to me when he has his little “accidents.”
I continued my daily routine caring for my responsibilities, praying, and hoping that Ron would let the idea just float away. But, the death of this vision was not to be. Instead, the vision began to grow. Ron was becoming more passionate about the idea. Ron wanted to be in the place where he would be most useful to his Creator. His desire to serve God in everything was contagious. His prayers were quite effective, penetrating the heart of God and slowly began to change me.
It was during this time that Ron and the elders of our church began to lead the people in a time of prayer and fasting for the revival of our nation, community, and church. We prayed passionately for our church and the many needs God revealed to us. We fasted from meals to show God that we were serious about coming before him and our desire for him to be at work in our church. God answered prayers and showed us his glory in the most amazing ways.
But there was still a locked door in my heart that I did not want the Lord to enter. He could have the rest of my chambers, but the one having to do with our future, I did not want him to enter. The bolt of fear kept that door securely closed.
Scripture declares God’s will for my life – more often than I give it credit. God is a compassionate God and he gently led me to passages about fear that melted away the chains of control in my life. When I repented of my fear, he was able to be the tour guide to open my heart and show me his ways and his plans for my life. Fear was being forged into courage.
It was having faith in God as my guide that allowed me to take a sincere look at what our future could hold. All along, he had been preparing us for this next move. We had done church planting for 13 years; we had learned the basic skills for growing a church. We cared deeply for ministry families. We had walked the path of suffering through the death of our son while ministering to a congregation. We had compassion on those who were struggling because we had been there. We knew that this world is not our home and getting settled here is not what the “alien” lifestyle is about (1 Peter 2:11).
God repeatedly proved how he could provide for us – both financially and emotionally. Certainly, he would continue his faithfulness in the future. He had never steered us wrong before, why would he do that now!
I got up from my bed of prayer and fasting and drank from the cup of rejoicing because God was at work in my life. He was pulling up the stakes in our lives and moving us on, eager to be our tour guide for the journey ahead.
I tied the bonnet strings under my chin and began to look around. Now how am I going to pack this conveyor belt in the wagon?
Follow God’s lead when he is calling you to join him in his work.
2 PREPARING FOR THE TRIP
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien
Occasionally I dream, not the kind of sweet nighttime visions that vanish when you wake from a good night’s sleep. If that were to happen, it would mean that Kari and Jeremy must be at Grandma’s house for the night or else I loaded up on Benadryl the evening before. The kind of dream I am referring to is the desire that slips into your thoughts in the daytime, when life seems a bit dry and monotonous. These kinds of dreams keep hope alive.
Shrouded within this skin of mine, is a fragment of adventure. Every now and again, it unveils itself. After being married to a “Charles Ingalls type” for 19 years, it is a good thing that at least ten percent of my DNA has a longing for a bit of excitement. For instance, I occasionally think that hiking the Appalachian Trail would be an exciting undertaking. As quickly as that desire arises, my cautious nature reminds me of the amount of preparation needed to go on a precarious trip of that magnitude. One can’t underestimate the responsibility, and as any good boy scout knows, you must always “be prepared.” It is important to know every detail of your venture from climbing rugged mountains, outwitting bears on the hunt for food, to knowing where the best water source is located. Not being properly prepared could mean the death of your dream. It is best to learn from those who have experienced it already, so you are aware of what may lie ahead.
Unlike well-equipped Appalachian hikers, Ron and I knew very little of what to expect from our next job assignment. God was moving us, but he seemed to leave the details of the preparation for us to learn. So, during this time, I wrestled with how best to get ready for this next phase of life. The adventure part was exciting, but the reality of it was overwhelming. This “struggle” was exactly what we needed. The unpredictability of living on the road was something with which we needed to get acquainted.
Ron would be coming alongside other missionaries across North America to be a resource and encouragement to them in their work. During this time of our preparation, there was a conference in central Illinois for all the folks with whom we would be working. Our family was going to be introduced as the ones who would fill the role of pastor to the missionary staff. It would be a great opportunity for us to gauge their level of receptivity to us. We wanted God to give us evidence to confirm that this was his direction for us.
Central Illinois was 800 miles from our home. This week–long journey would be a great trial run for our family to see how we would handle the many nuisances of travel. As I packed clothing, food, Kari’s medical supplies and wheelchair, I whispered a prayer that God would show us what else we needed for this trip. Once certain that we were ready, we packed it all into our 1989 Ford van, closed the doors, and headed out. Our expectations were eagerly leading the way.
Jeremy brought a satchel of toys and travel games to keep him entertained. Kari, seated in her wheelchair, was strapped down securely beside him. She listened to music while Ron and I conversed and prayed over our future. The miles clipped away with ease. The closer we came to our destination, the more convinced we became that traveling was a perfect fit for our family.
How quickly thoughts can change – in an instance in fact. Forty miles from the conference, and one hour before we were to meet our co-workers, a dreaded noise sounded from under the hood and the red engine light appeared on the dashboard. Ron quickly guided the van off to the side of the interstate before it completely ran out of power.
We sat quietly, feeling only the sway of our van as tractor-trailers flew past, leaving us in their dust. The engine gave no response as Ron continued to turn the ignition switch to see if any life was left in our van.
Fields on either side of the highway sat idle, as it was still too early in the spring for the farmers in the “heartland” to begin their plowing. Other than the highway traffic, we saw no signs of life anywhere before or behind us. We couldn’t even remember when we saw the last exit.
No GPS hung from our window. No cell phone was in our pocket. No OnStar was installed in our ancient, no-frills van. We had no flares, no flashlights, and no interior lights. Only the open hood and dangling white handkerchief gave evidence that we needed help! And so, we sat watching the sun continue its determined course of sinking into the western horizon.
A car slowed and pulled in front of us. Ron eagerly jumped out and chatted briefly with the man who allowed him to use his cell phone to call AAA. A tow truck was coming and so our Good Samaritan continued on his way, leaving us alone again.
Kari started to whimper, the sound that expressed how we all felt. But then I realized, she was not reacting to our present stranded condition; she was hungry. Over the past 750 miles, we had eaten all our food. Only some dry crackers remained in our lunch bag and that was not something she was able to eat. We were planning to enjoy a complimentary meal as soon as we arrived at the conference. Her restlessness also indicated that she needed to get out of her chair. Jeremy begged for a bathroom but that was easily solved by allowing him to step outside.
The reality that no one was coming slapped us hard in the face as we realized we were stuck and miserably unprepared for such an emergency. And traveling was to be our life for the next five years? We had no place to look except up, so we prayed, asking God to deliver us from this terrible situation. An hour had passed and no tow truck. We were now officially late for the big introduction and our first opportunity to share our vision for the new job. The would-be professional travelers were stuck by the side of a road, with a severely disabled daughter and a young son. How embarrassing!
After two hours had passed, a second Samaritan finally stopped. He parked his car a little ahead of ours. He had noticed the small white cloth hanging out of our window. By now it was completely dark. Ron rolled down the window as he approached. He told him our trouble and that there was no life left in the van.
The next thing I knew, Ron was driving away with this stranger, leaving behind Kari, Jeremy and myself locked in the van with strict instructions that we should unlock the door under no circumstances. The taillights glowed red for a long distance as I watched my protector driving away from me on the flat, barren highway. The next exit was ten miles ahead of us, where Ron was hoping to call for help.
I started to cry. It was foolish of us to be so unprepared. We should have at least invested in a high-priced cell phone! Doubts and fears crept into the dark, terrified corners of my mind. “Why did we think traveling for five years with a disabled child was a good idea?”
Another hour passed. I was beginning to wonder if there would be any future to our new ministry. Was Ron kidnapped? Would we be sitting along this road until the sun rose? Would I be able to feed my children any food tonight? Had the mission organization already dismissed us since we were a “no-show” on our first introduction tour? The cold was seeping into the dead vehicle. I wrapped a blanket around Kari. I tried not to let fear show in my voice as I entertained Jeremy with games of hang man while being hung-up by the side of the road.
It was now four hours after our van had died. I saw a car slowing down and pulling to a stop behind us. Relief flooded my heart when I saw Ron step from that vehicle. He quickly thanked the driver, then hopped into our van. Our “angel” was a Christian man who lived twenty miles from the location of our breakdown. When he saw our van by the road, he felt a nudge from God to stop and see if he could help. He drove Ron to a garage and a phone and got him something to eat. After being assured that people from our conference were prepared to rescue us, our angel then drove Ron back thirty-five miles to deliver him to us. We then waited for the tow truck – within a few minutes our rescue vehicle arrived.
We were not alone that night, not stranded, and not unseen by our Lord. His angels were quite attuned to the fact of our dead van. He had a plan we could not see. That same evening the executive committee voted to give us permission to move forward in the next phase of our job preparation. They must not have been as concerned about our travelling skills as I was.
Further confirmation of our Lord’s providence in our crisis was communicated to us. When hearing of our distress, the entire missionary staff went to prayer on our behalf and then they also started sharing with each other about their own life challenges. Our “introduction” to them was as real people, who also face bumps in the road. And as the director said, “It was difficult to see all the struggles being poured out, but it was tremendous confirmation that the missionary families need the Denlingers to come alongside them.”
The week was inspiring. We had many meaningful conversations with the staff, and we believed that God was bringing about this new job at just the right time. It was going to be a tough assignment, but with our love of people and our desire to help them overcome difficulties, we knew we were in the right place. With our repaired van, we drove home to Pennsylvania without further incident.
* * * * *
“Hello Friends. Now reality is hitting hard, and I am still numb, my emotions not catching up with me.” Ron wrote in an email update.
He found this kind of communication to be a great way to get prayer support for the many needs we had in preparing for the big job ahead of us. We needed much prayer support and sending out regular prayer updates was how he best communicated our needs.
Only a few weeks had passed since our trip to Illinois. It is Saturday evening. Ron and I sit in an all too familiar place: the surgical waiting room at DuPont Children’s Hospital. The last twenty-four hours have been gut wrenching. It began with a physical therapy session yesterday, after which Kari showed some mild discomfort, leading to increasing irritability. Finally, this morning she broke out into screams. No matter what we tried, we could not comfort her. Something was terribly wrong.
We rushed her to the emergency room of our closest pediatric hospital – an hour from us. X-rays confirm that her left hip is fractured, requiring immediate surgery. So here we sit, once again our hearts being ripped out as we watch our daughter suffering tremendous pain.
We struggle to understand how this could have happened. My mother’s intuition tells me that the broken bone was a result of the physical therapy session, but I just didn’t want to believe it. Kari’s therapist was so gentle, but as soon as I saw the new stretching exercise he tried on her, it was too late to say no. Kari was more susceptible to a break because of a prior surgery on that same hip. So, as soon as I saw her flex it in a certain manner, the damage was done. It was an accident.
But now this misfortune leaves our dear daughter in grueling pain and us with more doubt about our traveling plans.
I stayed with Kari in the hospital while she recuperated. Ron went home to pick up the pieces we left behind. Jeremy had been dropped off with friends and ministry work at the church still needed to be followed up on.
The news at the hospital was good. The surgery was without complication, the pain and muscle spasms were kept to a minimum, and all the staff was so compassionate and competent caring for Kari. I stayed by her bedside. For the entire four days of recuperation we had no roommate to disturb us, so when Kari was able to sleep, so could I. Outwardly, progress was being made, but within me a storm was raging.
There was a spiritual battle in the invisible world. I could feel it; a hot, foul air trying to smother me. Ever since we said yes to God, a challenge faced us at every turn.
A huge pile of dollars to raise, a breakdown of our van, things like that I could handle. But an attack on the most vulnerable person in our family shook me to the core. I couldn’t stand to see the devil stooping to such lows in his urgency to stop us. I prayed that the devil would not succeed in discouraging us. It was such a critical time in our transition, and we had to fight through these greatest naysayers: our doubts, our fears and the devil himself. I had to keep breathing the sweet aroma of our heavenly Father or I would choke.
A week after Kari was home from the hospital and recovering amazingly well, Ron received an email from one of our many prayer partners. It simply reminded us that, “wherever we are, our family is under the care of our Lord and what better place for us to be.”
Though we did not know what was happening in the spiritual realm, we knew God was in control. He was still leading, so we kept pressing on. Our spiritual armor was a little dented, but still intact.
* * * * *
We were beginning to understand the magnitude of this new work, physically and spiritually, when we gave a commitment to RHMA of five to ten years.
Jesus had told his disciples when he sent them out two by two on their missionary journey to just take the clothes on their backs. (Matthew 10:5-14) In other words, travel light, perhaps allowing us a backpack.
That sounded simple enough, but I was afraid that Ron’s laptop and books, Jeremy’s toys, bike, schoolbooks, and Kari’s diapers, seizure medicines, medical supplies and braces wouldn’t all fit in one backpack. And if I was cooking for the crew, I needed a few supplies of my own.
There still lay a mountain before us. Along with our wrapping up nine years of pastoral ministry, we had to sell our home. There was a houseful of personal belongings, most of which we would need to get rid of or put into storage in order to downsize to a 30 x 8-foot home on wheels. And we still needed to develop a support team that would help us with all the logistics for living on the road as a family.
We were leaving behind the security of a regular paycheck. We were entering the life of faith as a missionary, not always knowing how much our income would be. That was more frightful to me than rock climbing and running from bears like my Appalachian Trail dream.
It was back to fund raising, traveling from church to church, sharing our ministry and communicating why we believed this new route was God’s plan for us.
So how was I to pack for this trip? I was realizing that we could only tow the bare necessities around the country: only those things most helpful for the journey.
How little clothing can we get by on? Would anyone notice that I would be wearing the same outfit Sunday after Sunday? Now that I think about it, why are we Americans so hung up on clothes? Other words of Jesus, which we read but disregard most days, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; …what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air…they do not sow or reap yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:25-26)
These thoughts infiltrated my mind with each dresser drawer that I unpacked. More and more boxes were filled, destined for the local thrift store. I would not need them over the next five years and afterward, I was sure, they would be out of style.
Next was the living room. Shelves of books lined the walls. I could not leave my beloved books behind. I would never survive on a trail of isolation without my books to entertain me. Which should go along? Which should stay behind? These laborious decisions had to be made. On the bottom shelf, arranged in chronological order, were all my photo albums which held sixteen years of memories.
I slipped to the floor and let the tears of joy and sadness soak my sentimental heart. I flipped through the pages of the cherished albums, reminiscing about all those good years. Then I closed them and packed them gently in plastic tubs, where they would stay until I lived in a brick-and-mortar home again.
I saved the kitchen packing for last. It was loaded with modern conveniences. We had a Jenn-Air stove complete with griddle and large oven and a hefty refrigerator that could store any amount of groceries I brought home in a week. The countertop was lined with mixer, blender, toaster and can opener. The other appliances were stored nicely in the adjoining pantry. How could I ever reduce this kitchen to fit the size of a shoebox?
Could I do without my food processor, roast pans, and bread maker? Suddenly they looked like such luxury items. A paring knife and hand-kneaded bread would have to suffice.
Opening the cupboard revealed rows of cookbooks and spices that enhanced all those deliciously cooked meals. My hobby of collecting recipes suddenly looked overwhelming and burdensome. Where would it all go? Would my cooking be diminished to throwing some Dinty Moore beef stew or Spam onto paper plates?
The camper-sized spice rack I saw in the RV store only had room for six spices. “Six spices! Oh Lord how will I ever decide which tastes to pack away – never to be consumed again! Which ones will be most useful to me?”
As soon as that word slipped from my lips, I knew I had just reduced myself to a pinch of salt. Useful! That had been the cry of my heart through all this packing. I wanted to know that I was going to be useful, needed in this next Kingdom work. Do something BIG for God!
Useful! Is that all I cared about? Did it not matter more what God thought, what he wanted? I was in his business; not the other way around.
The kitchen stool bore the weight of my God-sized burden as I sat down to repent of my selfishness and ask him once again to return my eyes back on him. “Please, help me pack the right attitude so that I can serve you and others, Lord. Tuck away in my heart the perseverance, peace and wisdom that I will need for whatever this mountain delivers to us along the way! And Lord, if someone doesn’t receive me, help me to graciously kick the dirt from my hiking boots!”
Study God’s blueprint for building his kingdom, setting aside plans for your own.
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