‘Packing Light’ – Part 1

OK, first a disclaimer: I need to tell you that my communications staff consistently tells me I don’t know how to write a blog – I write too much. What you must remember is that I am at heart a historian. To really tell a story takes time. So if you are one of those persons who really need to have something stated in two paragraphs or fewer, this story is not for you.

About two weeks ago I was going up the staircase in the Stevens Center and made my usual brief stop in our admissions office. I started a conversation when Mandee Wilmot asked, “Would you like a copy of my sister’s book?” Well, I really didn’t need another book to read at the moment, but Mandee was so sincere and, after all, it was her sister. So, I took the book, placed it in my bag and thought, “I will get to it sometime.”

I just spent the last nine days traveling in China – several plane flights, endless car rides, and bus trips that provided plenty of opportunities to read! About halfway through my time in China, Central China Normal University took a group of university presidents to see the Wudan Mountains and their magnificent Taoist monasteries. I was warned at the start that it would take a seven-hour bus ride to get to the isolated mountain area. (The trip was worth it, but that is another story.) The roads were not the smoothest, making it difficult to write, so reading and talking to my student interpreter, Quily, made the afternoon pass more quickly. As I opened my bag looking for reading material, there was Allison Vesterfelt’s book, Packing Light: thoughts on living life with less baggage.

My first thought was, “Why not – it can’t be that bad and, after all, the road is long and I left the other books at the hotel.” Thus began my experience with Packing Light. Not only did I find the book to be well written, but it was also engaging. In fact, once I started to read it, I could not stop. If I were just to describe the book to you, I would say that it is a travelogue – a very intriguing story of Allison and her friend Sharaya and what they learn about relationships and their walk with God as they travel together through all 50 states.

Her story drew me into her experience in a way that few others have. Here is a young woman, a college graduate and an alumna of George Fox (MAT program), teaching school in Portland, Ore. She seems to have it altogether. She has good friends, an excellent career and a strong relationship with God – but she feels something is missing in her life. Without relating the complete story, suffice it to say that Allison and Sharaya choose to leave their jobs, friends and homes to take a road trip together visiting all 50 states – absolutely crazy!

How do you pack for a 50-state road trip? The answer is carefully, and in Allison’s words, light. She uses the metaphor of packing to talk not only about what they put in their car but what they also choose to put into their lives and carry with them.

Toward the end of the book, she asks the reader, “If someone were to find your luggage, they would open it and carefully sort through the belongings. The things they would find would tell a story – your story of where you were going, who you were, and what really mattered. What would your story look like?”

That is a powerful question: What do the things I carry say about me? This fall we welcomed almost 800 new students to George Fox University. At times in my career as an administrator I have been surprised at the expectations that some parents, trustees and pastors place on us. Our students are not blank slates at age 18 (or 20 or 25). They come to the university with bags already loaded with things – both good and bad. We are doing our best to help them sort through the bags. There are a number of things that will have to come out, a lot of things that need to stay, and a few important things to add. It is our hope that they will leave with a bag packed “light and ready” for the journey that lies ahead of them. We consistently remind ourselves that our students are works in progress. We are, of course, trying to discover who they are – their stories – and come alongside them so that they might become who God would have them to be.

Well, this is the end of Part 1. I would encourage you to read Allison’s book. It will take you on an unexpected journey where you will discover more about yourself than you may want to know. In Part 2 – to be posted later this week – I am going to talk about the things I carry and what they say about me.

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2 Responses to ‘Packing Light’ – Part 1

  1. Fred Gregory says:

    I am interested in reading this book, as I have thought a lot about all that I carry through life. Having spent most of my adult life working internationally, which meant a lot of travel, I learned to pack light, as I only carried a carry-on bag. you soon learn that there are always essential things that go every time, but then there are the destination specific items that are needed for the moment, but otherwise not necessary. Was I going to a cold climate spending time in villages with those we served, or going to a tropical climate and spending time with government officials in more formal settings? Sometimes I was doing both, making prioritizing and packing an even greater challenge.

    When I was younger, I felt I needed to pack a lot into my life, every day. I must say that my bag was not light, and rather than being discrete in what I was packing around, I just kept adding to the load. I seldom sorted, or even rearranged, let alone put aside what was not not needed for the time. My bag of life became awkwardly heavy and encumbered my abilities to do my life’s calling with grace and to relate positively to those around me.

    Today, I am older and have learned some things about myself and life. I don’t need to pack so much any more. I’m discovering what for me are the essentials, which for me are fewer than ever before. Among the items let go (for the most part) are the need to be right and to know it all, all the time. It is wonderfully freeing to be a fellow traveler learning from every experience and encounter and not needing to be right with all the answers all the time. I am eager to read Allison Vesterfelt’s book and learn from her experiences about packing right.

  2. Steve Spotts says:

    When I read your blog post last night I was reminded of how grateful I am for your vision and leadership at GFU. Of course, initially I was delighted that you read Ally’s book and were moved by it. I think I especially appreciate it when other men of my generation enjoy it because I personally enjoy her writing so much. I gave a copy to a colleague (a GFU adjunct) who told me, “Well, I’m reading Ally’s book, even though I have other things I’m supposed to be reading, but it’s a really good story and I can’t put it down.” Then he said, “My only criticism is that it has way too much practical insight for one book—she could have gotten 2 or 3 books out of that!” That made me smile.

    But all that led me to further reflect on the ways our family has been positively impacted by GFU over the last decade. My first real memory of you actually precedes your presidency, when you took an interest in Mandee’s conviction to help out during the Katrina disaster and made possible her effort to organize a small team of women to be among the first clean up crews on site in Louisiana. Obviously Mandee and Ryan’s undergraduate degrees and Ally’s graduate degree are significant parts of our gratefulness; but so also is my brief stint teaching in the Seminary, Mandee’s post graduate years working in Admissions, and her consistently high praise for the entire leadership team at Fox. Those are the obvious things but there is so much more.

    We discovered and enjoyed a community at Fox during countless basketball games and other events over four years as we watched Mandee. But we were also watching you (faithfully attend so many of those games) and the coaches and the AD, and faculty, and the students and families we came to know and love. There are far too many experiences to list and they continue as the influence of Fox permeates both near and far.

    Anyway, I was reminded that none of this happens by accident. It takes leadership and vision and discipline and teamwork. I just want to personally thank you for your role in all of what makes GFU the truly incredible institution and place of learning that it is.