I’m not sure why I like to collect “stuff,” but I do. Perhaps some of it comes from the fact that my family moved a lot when I was growing up and having “things” seems to give me a feeling of permanence. I know you are thinking that, from a logical standpoint, that is ridiculous – things aren’t permanent. True, but when it comes to collections, I am not very reasonable.
After reading alumna (MAT program) Allison’s book I thought that I might collect “things” because I don’t really trust God. Collecting things does give me a sense of control in a world as president where I always seem to be responding to some event or crisis. I have always thought it was funny that many people believe that when you’re a president you have “control” of most of your life. The opposite seems to be the case.
So, bottom line: If you came into a special room in my house you would find displayed more than 30 watches, around 150 pens (wood pens, sterling silver pens, fountain pens – you get the idea), Matchbox cars from the 1960s, John Wayne paraphernalia, and the list goes on. My wife Ruth often asks me when the collection will be labeled complete. After all, how many watches can you wear or pens can you use? For the collector, it is a silly question – there is always one more thing to add to a collection.
Almost 20 years ago I read the book Tuesday’s with Morrie (although the stories are quite different, Allison’s book reminded me of this work). It is a wonderful book about a professor, Morrie, who had been diagnosed with ALS. I will never forget his comment after he learned of his diagnosis: “I immediately stopped buying things; they were no longer meaningful.” Things have a way of limiting us, particularly those of us who have chosen to follow Christ.
In general, my luggage has way too much “stuff” in it, and I have been reminded to lighten the load. It is vitally important to free yourself from entanglements as you seek to follow Christ. Allison also discovered that it matters what you decide to keep in your suitcase. In reality, there are a few things in my “bag” (literally and figuratively) that say a lot about me, and they are far more valuable than the things I collect. The curious thing is that if someone were to rob me, they would overlook these items.
There are two pockets in my laptop bag that have a few items that go with me everywhere I go: a piece of art work from the fourth grade, a few encouraging cards from former students and friends, several Father’s Day cards, and a small picture book my wife made for me on my 40th birthday. These “things” remind me at all times of my most precious cargo – the people God has called me to invest in.
In the bag there is also a black Bible that follows me around. Today, I keep almost all of my books on my iPad, but there is something about that Bible – the stories, the pages, the memories of sermons and studies. It reminds me of the importance of my relationship with God.
My parents have done a great deal for me, but most importantly they taught me that faith in God and family are far more important “things” to carry with you than anything you could buy.
I was sitting in the airport in Shanghai and looking at the faces of the literally thousands of people that were passing me. God reminded me that he cares for each one of them. There are more than 1 billion people in China alone, and I always leave China with a sense of being surrounded by a heck of a lot of people.
At George Fox, the Be Known promise is recognition that in a world with billions of people, he cares about each of us individually. He is investing in our lives. In turn, we are to Be Known for investing in the lives of our students, alumni and our community. As I write this, I went through the notes I have in my bag. One is from a former student, Caitlin Bletscher, who worked in our admissions office and who I got to know well. She wrote, “Thank you for an awesome four years of joking and encouragement. As I leave George Fox for the time being and begin a new chapter of my life, I will always value the time and experience I had here. It has shaped me and molded me into the person I am today. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me – not all the students get to know the university president. I am very honored!”
I hope Caitlin knows that I am that one who is honored. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting to know students. If you can think about it this week, sit down and write a note of encouragement to a son or a daughter, a friend, or a coworker. Maybe that note will find its way into a bag, not really “worth” a penny but in a more meaningful way, worth everything.
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of President Baker’s reflections on Allison Vesterfelt’s book Packing Light: thoughts on living life with less baggage. Part 1 was posted on Monday, Oct. 7.