Hi. My name is Janet and I am an excessive packer.
Let’s just get that out of the way right off the bat.
Last year as I began packing for my first ever mission trip, Richard must have watched with great anticipation to see how I was going to fit everything I needed for the next two weeks into two suitcases with weight limits and one backpack. My husband knows the extent of the luggage I carry for a simple overnight stay.
It wasn’t so much the two large pieces, but my backpack that I struggled with. You see, I had never carried a backpack before. I wasn’t sure how to pack one, at least for a long flight.
It was the 26-hour flight that prompted my backpack purchase. My reasoning was that it would free my hands for retrieving tickets, passport, money, and so on. My trip would be carefree with no carry-on luggage to drag around. And I was going to need a lot of stuff for this flight.
Or, so I thought.
In Memphis as we boarded our plane, I hardly noticed my backpack. Toward the end of our layover in Atlanta I began to question some of my choices in packing it. By Amsterdam I knew I had over packed. Between Amsterdam and Cape Town I would have chunked the thing out of the window if I could have. Because it was heavy.
It was painfully heavy.
Following the best advice I could find on Pinterest, I stuffed my backpack to the gills with every recommendation from every seasoned traveler. Medications. Toiletries. Books. Snacks. Laptop. Tablet. Neck pillow. Change of Clothes. Snacks. Did I say that already? Well, let me say it again, because I had enough snacks to keep our whole group fed for a couple of weeks.
I was over packed. Again.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my over-packed backpack would make a long-lasting impression on me. An impression that would far outlast the pain in my back and my neck from lugging almost 40 pounds of excessive baggage around with me from one side of the world to another.
When our plane touched down late that Sunday night in Cape Town, my blurry mind was struggling to finish important parts of the four messages I was scheduled to deliver at the Women’s Conference where I would be speaking. I had hoped to be able to use my laptop to put the finishing touches on those messages during one of the painfully long legs of our flight. That never happened. Not because I fell asleep on the plane and didn’t accomplish anything, because sleep never happened either.
It was a bad combination. No writing. No sleep. But a backpack crammed full of everything I had believed I would need to help me make the most of my flight. Most of which went unused.
We disembarked at Cape Town International Airport and worked our way through the customs line, everyone struggling with their own baggage. I pulled one piece and pushed another, constantly laboring with the seemingly increasing weight of my backpack. All the while wondering how I was going to be ready to speak to my first group at The Bride of Christ Church in less than 48 hours.
As we were met by a couple of the men from our host churches, they took our luggage and loaded it into the vans. The bigger pieces tucked safely away in the trailer, my backpack remained with me, this time under my feet. I grumbled to God for most of the van ride about why He hadn’t given me all of what He wanted me to share in my messages. Didn’t He know how pressed for time I was now? And didn’t He care about how my shoulders ached from carrying around this heavy backpack? Always in my way. Tripping me up at every turn. Hindering my every move. Again, the thought of throwing it out the window crossed my mind. That’s when I got the rest of what I needed for my first message.
Throw off everything that hinders.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)
There was a good portion of my message. Throw off everything that hinders.
The theme of the Women’s Conference was Freedom. I would be sharing with these women about freedom in Christ. I would be telling them about the things that keep us from being free. Chains. Shackles. Things that hinder. I would be sharing with them how we become caught up in burdens and how to be freed from those burdens.
I was still learning that lesson for myself.
A few weeks before leaving for our mission trip I had been close to wrapping up my messages for the Women’s Conference, but God stopped me and took me in another direction. He took me through what I called at the time a “Spiritual Detox”. (I’ll share more about that in upcoming posts.) I was a little confused, and truth be told, quite a bit perturbed at the fact that God didn’t let me finish my Freedom messages before He got me all sidetracked on this detox. Don’t get me wrong; it was a real blessing, and something that I still go back through often. But His timing seemed off. Way off.
During my “detox”, I unloaded a lot of things from my heart. At least 45 different “toxins” ranging from anger to an unrepentant heart. It was life-changing. It just seemed like God could have picked a better time to do the changing. Because apparently He had forgotten that I was under a deadline for these messages.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the “detox” was an important part of my message of Freedom. It was a lesson on unpacking. It was a lesson on how we all have spiritual backpacks that get full of things that weigh us down and hinder us while we try to run the races God has marked out for us. Or, they keep us on the sidelines, out of our races altogether.
The whole time we were in those suburbs of Cape Town at Maranatha Baptist Church and Bride of Christ, the women would come back to me and ask me that question I had posed to them.
What’s in your backpack?
I still ask myself that question on a regular basis. I still find some pretty unpleasant things in there weighing me down. Tripping me up. Hindering me. I still find myself over-packing. Packing the wrong things. But, I’ve learned to allow for routine inspections of my backpack’s contents. I’m learning how not to over pack.
I’m learning to travel light.
I don’t know what I was able to give to the people of South Africa, but I do know this: the people of South Africa gave me something I will never forget. They taught me that we all struggle with excess baggage. They gave me an opportunity to understand better how to depend on God every minute of every day. They gave me a lesson in running my race unhindered. And they provide me with an unforgettable opportunity to learn how to pack for my race.