Cardboard Assault

There is a smell here of both hope and anxiety. It is a smell that is fresh but acrid as it attacks my nostrils, triggering memories of days gone by while making my eyes water as I focus on the days to come. It is a smell that carries weight itself even as it gets weighed down with the possessions of life. It is a smell accompanied by promise, even as it is locked tight with the screech of tape rubbing against its surface.

It is the smell of cardboard. My house is filled with its aroma.

I’m an itinerate preacher in the United Methodist Church. This year I join with thousands of colleagues around the connection as I pack my belongings and prepare to move to the place my Bishop has assigned me to go. On the surface, that seems like a simple thing: Jobs change. You pack the boxes and you move. This is life.

I have a friend in the Army who has moved 19 times in 31 years. I don’t envy him. I don’t even want to think about moving that much. However, I think it’s different for him. Sure, we both signed up for an itinerant life. But there appears to be so much less understood about the preacher that moves her or his family from town to town than there is about the multitude of soldiers who move from base to base. And maybe that is part of it. When soldiers move, they are almost always leaving with others or arriving with others. They are moving out of and into a community of “movers.” Preachers and their families move from and into communities of “stayers.”

The ones I am leaving behind have been taught by me, frustrated by me, and joined me in the worship of Someone much bigger than all of us. I know their stories. Some families have been here so long the roads and buildings have their names on them. And they know each other. Their houses are known not just by the community of faith but the whole community. Their place is here. My place will soon be “not here – but there.” And the folks there have more than likely been there a while as well, rooted in the area and each other. Familiar with worship, with one another, with the jokes that have gone on for generations. Sure, they know we are coming, but what does that really mean? They’ve had preachers arrive before. They are watching one leave now. How does that affect everything? I feel for the loss at both places. But the smell of cardboard reminds me that I am the one moving. I am the one without a place.

IMG_20190516_214216.jpgI take one of the old boxes that I have used to move before, unfold it, and let the dust assault my senses. I fix the box for filling and start packing in the contents of life. But it is more than stuff that is going into these boxes. It is memories. This is the place my two youngest graduated from high school. This is the home they left for college, and left again for grad school. I will fill the boxes with some of “their” stuff and even more of “our” stuff but when they get to the new place, something will be very, very different. And when I smell the low-grade heat of the adhesive tape locking away that stuff, I smell that which is getting left behind.

Sometimes I take a box and start filling it with my life, and the aroma that arrives is one that reminds me that there are new things headed my way. New challenges. New friends. New experiences. New mistakes to make. New. New. New. It is hopeful and promising but just like holding one of my newborn children there is something frightening in all that newness. The responsibility of it all. The knowing I am going to a place where everybody knows my name, but I don’t know theirs. The new routes I will have to learn. The new celebrations I will share in. The new ministry that will take place. The hope of all this newness is weighty, even heavier than the cardboard filled with the dishes from the china cabinet.

Sometimes I prep a box for packing and the aroma that reaches me gives my mind a shot of racing fuel in the form of adrenaline. Are the movers sure they can do this job? Are they really going to show up? Am I going to get to say good-bye the way I want, to everybody that I want to say good-bye to? Is my spouse packing that stuff or am I? And who is sorting through that part of life over there? Will this break en route?

Will anyone be here to say, “So long. We love you.”? Will anyone be there to say, “Welcome. We love you.”?

Sometimes I get a box from the stack of recycled moving materials and even though it is empty, I have trouble moving it. A dense and heavy fog surrounds the box. The fog interrupts normal conversation modes between my spouse and me. It makes me tired, oh, so tired. It overwhelms me. To borrow from an all too popular show on TV: Moving. Is. Coming. And with it comes the change in the relationships even in my house. Excitement. Grief. Excitement. Grief. It wears on any marriage. I’m just fortunate enough to have a spouse who patiently keeps on packing, even when it seems it will never end. Because in the end, we want to be together. We choose each day to love each other and no tension, not even the tension of finding the right box for “that” will end that choice.

My house smells of cardboard. It is hopeful. It is anxious.

It is dust – held together by pressure and glue. Someday it will be dust again. Then again – so will I.

So will we all.

My house smells of cardboard – a holy smell leading me away from and towards the place that is not quite home.

7 thoughts on “Cardboard Assault

  1. Your post fills my eyes with tears and my head with numbers. Numbers? Kind of an odd concept. No. Numbers. 300 and some sermons. Several dozen Remarker columns. Multiple dozens of committee meetings. Maybe a dozen new member confirmations. And the most impactful – three funerals and a wedding. You have been with me in my weakest moments and my most joyful moments. You have a place in my heart no other Pastor has ever had. And right now I am grateful for media because I could never have gotten through trying to say this to your face. Go with God my friend. I will keep you in my prayers as you and Pam continue to pack your lives and the cats again. And as you transition. And as you unpack. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

    1. (clears emotions from throat…) Thank you. The numbers are something to think about. There has been much…but I know there is much more joy in store for you and yours! Thanks for the kind words.

  2. Your words have spoken to my broken heart and given me hope this morning. I unexpectedly lost my job on Friday & am trying to find joy; the silver lining. God is still using you to speak hope into our family… You and your sweet family continue to be a part of our story! Prayers for you as you embark on this new journey… may it be a great chapter for you, Pam and the girls!

    1. Mandy…so sorry to hear about your job. I will be praying that something new and wonderful emerges. Your words are kind and appreciated. Best wishes for you, Russ, and the kids!

  3. Such a poignant expression, Scott, during a time of joy and trepidation. Change is never easy, but it helps us see who we are, doesn’t it? What is essential.

    Child of a rambling father, as you may remember, our family moved so often when I was young that I friendship and return and loss became very tangled for me. One thing I have learned for certain: you have always a home, and always are home, in the hearts of those who love you.

    I wish you and Pam all the best in your move, and hope that this venture (as once again, primarily a couple rather than larger family unit) brings the two of you new closeness and an even stronger bond.

    Happiness always. 💕

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