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.