I’ve only ever moved once in my life. It was in the middle of fourth grade from the south side of Arlington, TX to the south-er side of Arlington, TX, just far enough to put me in the zone of a different elementary school. I finished out my fourth grade year with all my friends who I was convinced I’d know forever, and spent the summer getting adjusted to my new street that didn’t have any kids on it (except Johnny was two years older than me and was much better at basketball). I don’t remember a single boring day in my old neighborhood. If nothing else, there was the tree at the top of the culdesac that I could read Calvin and Hobbes in. I remember many boring days in my current neighborhood.
But the moving process- that I remember most vividly. When we were looking for a new house, every one we visited seemed like it was the one I’d soon be living in. I found the best features of each and clung to them in my mind, convincing myself it was the best house ever. We looked at one that was the exact same floor plan as my best friend’s at the time. That one was actually my least favorite if only because I already knew everything about all the rooms. But when we settled on the one I now call home, I knew it was game over- this was the one. And that conclusion has proven pretty accurate over the past 10 years or so.
Packing was the most narcissistically exciting thing to me. It was a chance for me to marvel at all my awesome stuff, packing away my Bionicles, legos, comics, and action figures, beaming with pride at my unparalleled collection. I was very careful to arrange them very particularly in boxes, convinced that some Packing Reviewer would come around, see my work, and clsp me on the shoulder saying “that’s some darn fine packing, boy. Darn fine.”
Once we were moved in, we only ordered pizza and Chinese for the first couple nights because we weren’t moved in enough to deal with the hassle of cooking. And no one cared about the mess of boxes everywhere because, hey, that’s moving. I read through Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in a matter of hours because reading felt like a legitimate adventure when I was on my bunk bed by myself in my own room. I got a Doc Ock poster from the book fair a week or so later, hung it in the space above my door and stared at it for a good half hour because it looked so good in my new room.
Moving was a dream come true to me.
But one day the new house just becomes a house. And when a house becomes a home (a transformation I’m not an expert on, but that I’ve read extensively about on embroidered pillows and hanging wooden plaques for sale at Cracker Barrel and Mardel), a part of you still wonders about the excitement of the move and the immediacy of that satisfaction as opposed to the slow-burn of security in a home.
The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind to me. I finished my second book and sent it out to my friends to read, a group of young adults arrived from Peterhead, Scotland to hang out with us before they headed to the Dominican Republic with our youth group for a mission trip, and my parents and girlfriend visited for a week to celebrate Independence Day in our nation’s capital.
I have been stretched every which way these past 2 weeks, and I’ve had to constantly question if I was stretching in the direction I needed to be.
Splitting our attention is not only difficult to pull off, but detrimental to ourselves and everyone else around us. One thing we try to focus on in TXA is being present to those around us. Typically this is most applicable to the question of technology vs. people: will we be on our phones when we’re with others or will we shut them off/ignore them in favor of the human beings before us in the flesh? But between job, parents, girlfriend, co-interns, teens, Scottish, and oh yeah, God, it was like I was trying to cover all bases, but ended up only doing so at the shallowest of levels.
It was a rough two weeks.
So I’m still trying to process what I learned over all that time. From hearing about what church is like in Scotland, to spending the 4th of July in DC and seeing the literal temples we’ve built for ourselves, there was a lot that I still need to dwell on to actually get anything coherent out of.
But last night I got to go out and continue a Thursday night ritual I’ve kept up with for most of my time here in Fairfax. There’s a ministry here called Least of These and the concept is simple: make sandwiches/get McDonald’s and take them out to some homeless people around downtown DC. And then sit and talk with them.
There hasn’t been a week where I’ve gone to do this and regretted it. All day Thursday I can think about how all I want to do is have a nap after work, but I force myself to go to LoT anyway because I’m convinced that service isn’t service when you only do it when it’s convenient for you. That’s not service at all. Heck, that’s hardly anything.
So for the last few weeks I’ve been talking to one of our friends out there who I’ll call Norm. Norm hangs out in this small park called McPherson Square which is all of a block away from the White House. He’s got a story for everything. He’s worked everywhere at some time or another and doesn’t shake hands. He loves Iron Man, hated Man of Steel, and he’s not afraid to tell you why. And, regardless of how true or untrue some of his stories may be, he is one of the most self-aware people I’ve met.
We build up this stigma about nearly every group of people we come into contact with. Darren, my co-intern, was telling me the other day about what that’s like in terms of being a black male. People get this idea from all these different sources about what it’s like to be a black man and then meet him with all these assumptions. Some may be accurate, but by and large it’s like “I’ve never experienced that.”
That same idea has proven true in my experience with our friends at Least of These. Fun fact: homeless people know they’re homeless. It seems like we want to be so sensitive and are so focused on not making assumptions that we make a whole new set of assumptions. As a great orator once said: “it repeats… IT’S A MIRROR OF CONFUSION!”
But the theme I’ve noticed in all of Norm’s experiences he’s shared with me about being homeless is that people forget that they’re surrounded by other people. Whether it’s based out of assumptions we make about those around us or just an inattentiveness to our surroundings, we don’t give those around us the credit of being human in the same way we are.
For example, Norm has been without a watch before and come up to ask someone the time and they simply replied “No, I don’t have any money, sorry.” And so he had to repeat his actual question again. And then again. And then it clicked with that person that oh, this is just another human being asking me for the time of day.
But one thing that struck me last night as he talked was his sense of mortality. Norm will be 59 soon and, especially for someone living in as rough conditions as him, he looks pretty dang good for that age. He was bouncing around topics as he does and transitioned from how irresponsible young celebrities are to how we’re all gonna die one day. And how he’s been thinking about that a lot because he gives himself maybe 11 more years or so.
That’s not an easy thing, he admitted. But being where he is in life, it’s given him more perspective on what people expect him to desire. One of his buddies asked him, perhaps in jest, if he’d gotten a widescreen TV yet (Norm’s really into movies and has a place he stays at overnight, so that’s a pretty fair question). But Norm was just like “I could give a *made a fart sound* about some widescreen TV, man.” And that response is sort of the opposite of what we expect from someone with seemingly less than us, right? I mean, eventually doesn’t everyone want a two story house and to have an HD TV and Blu Ray player? I thought that was the dream, right?
“There’s no U-Haul van at the end, man,” Norm said. “Like they say: you can’t take it with you. No U-Haul to Heaven.”
There’s nothing I can say about material goods in the context of Christianity that hasn’t already been said. The Rich Young Ruler, storing treasures on Earth, moths and rust, thieves in the night. All that.
But all that speaks to our mortality. And that’s something I think Norm has got nailed down. Because we don’t think about the fact that we are going to die. As Christians, we talk about the life promised to us after death, but maybe we do so so readily because that glosses over that middle part: we are going to die.
I think about moving a lot. And making a home. We’re told that we are in the world but not of the world, and I’m not sure if that distinction will ever become easier to make. Because if we were crafted by God in the womb and then put into this world to spread His message, shouldn’t we be itching to go back at the end?
How much of the world around us is there just to distract us from the fact that we’re going to die? Norm opened my eyes just a little to that last night.
We don’t belong here. We’re not here to stay. So when that time does come for me, I don’t want to be fighting off God, convinced that the U-Haul van is going to show up for me to take everything I know from this world with me.
And the thing about U-Haul is that it’s designed for you to carry all that stuff yourself. As far as burdens go, Jesus is the one who carries that for us.
Everything else? Maybe there’s no van because it was never meant to be carried in the first place.