We had only lived in Europe a few months when we were invited to travel with a group of acquaintances to an out-of-town conference. Everyone was already loading their luggage into the van when we arrived, so we rushed to get our bags out of the car to join the group. What escaped me at the time, but soon became painfully evident, was that I was walking headlong into a cultural rift.
Only after we had wrestled my overstuffed suitcase out of the car did it occur to me that my bag was literally twice the size of any other piece of luggage travelling with us. When packing, I had reasoned that a three-day trip required STUFF, and I planned accordingly. Wanting to be prepared for any situation, I had simply emptied the contents of my closet into the spacious cavity and willed the monolith shut. I would soon learn that Europeans don’t pack that way.
None of that mattered, now, as I wheeled the monster toward our group. For an unguarded moment, eyebrows raised ever so slightly, and a look of dismay flickered in the eyes of the designated porter. We both knew he was going to suffer. I started to sweat, but there was no going back. Averting my eyes, and leaning the suitcase handle in his direction, I quickly released the bag and slinked to my seat in the van. I had packed for everything but this.
For the remainder of the weekend, a surge of primal angst hit me every time we had to congregate and someone else had to manhandle my bag. I would shamelessly slide it toward the luggage pile and then disappear until it was time to depart.
I’m sure no one else remembers the incident, but it was burned into my conscious. I no longer fret about it, but from that moment on, my packing strategy changed. I made a pact with myself that while on a trip I would use every item in my bag at least once. This forced me to pack lighter and really think about what I wanted to bring.
A few years later, while planning a trip home, I was again reminded of my experience with overstuffed luggage and cultural rifts.
A perfect home does not exist, and mine was no exception. We all did the best we could with what we had at the time, but none of us came out unscathed. Over the years, we created our own culture and I had acquired plenty of protective mechanisms – aka baggage. I always had on hand a plethora of cloaks and masks to make me feel safe.
On this trip, however, it dawned on me that I now belonged to another culture. As a new creation in Christ, I belong to a Kingdom Culture with an entirely different set of rules and apparel.
I began asking God to sift through the stuff in my bag that didn’t fit Kingdom values. Gazing intently into my heart, He revealed some of the excess weight: a judgmental spirit, reactive patterns, fears, resentments, isolation, victim mentality, scarcity mentality, fear of commitment, detachment, valuing image over authenticity, restlessness. These surplus items made it difficult to maneuver and only served to weigh down those around me.
I then asked for help to release those old ways in order to create space for more transcendent qualities like unconditional love, hope, joy, authenticity, and grace. I wanted to know how to carry this new culture back to my family. Because, at least for me, family represents the closest neighbor I will ever know.
Suddenly, going home took on an entirely new meaning. Running from home, figuratively and physically, was a reaction; choosing to come back was transformational. I slowly began to understand that I carry Home with me. Home is not a place to go but a way of being. It is a culture that doesn’t consider others, even family members, from a purely human perspective. Rather, it walks by faith, keeps one eye on eternity, and is lived out simultaneously in two dimensions.
With this renewed hope, I made the trip home. It became a turning point in my relationship with my parents.
Now, as I continue this journey of acculturation and find myself, on occasion, ashamed of the excess baggage I still carry, grace reminds me that the load really is getting lighter.
“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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” –Hebrews 12:1-2
Tamara Carpenter is part of Newsong’s Board. You can read more of her writing on her blog: tamaracarpenter.com