On the Side

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On the Side - January 2017


Laura Thomas

I don’t know what prompted me, maybe the clutter around the house, maybe the beginning of a new year; but a few days ago I decided to downsize my purse. 
My 13-year-old daughter watched me pour its contents onto my desk and offered her loving support by telling me that my purse was so big it “could have been mistaken for a diaper bag.”  I winced.  My youngest is five. 
As I emptied out what my husband not-so affectionately calls The Black Hole, I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed by what I found: 10 lipsticks, toys, entire bottles of medicine, lens cleaner (I don’t even wear glasses!), a 12-foot tape measure, an old lollipop, about 15 pens (some of which were leaking), and trash.  Lots of trash.  Old receipts, gum wrappers, you name it.
I sorted through the heap on my desk and picked through to find what was essential to put in my smaller purse.  At the end, the pile wasn’t all that much less, I mean, not since I threw away all the trash.  Why have I been carrying all those things around with me that I didn’t really need?  And how on earth was I going to keep my smaller purse from getting just as cluttered and full?  I answered my own question off-hand and scolded myself, “I’m just going to have to be more intentional about what I put in it”.
It was a God moment.
For the last 48 hours that thought has been rolling around in my brain. Am I being intentional about what I am carrying around every day?  In my life, in my heart? 
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” Ephesians 5:15-17 (NLT)
As medical wives, we are the glue in our families.  While our husbands shoulder the weight of caring for the sick, broken and injured, we wives bear the load of kids, home, school, church…you name it.  On top of that many of us have our own careers to balance as well.
Trying to squeeze in more than we can carry is our way of life!  As a result, it is easy to pack in too much surplus “stuff”, without stopping to carefully assess how much stuff we already have.  (That’s probably how I ended up with so many lipsticks and pens!).  Our calendars can become full to overflowing, robbing us of the wiggle-room for the fun or unexpected; for the sick kid, for the car that won’t start.  We lose our cool. We’re trapped by our schedules and stress sets in. 
Speaking personally here, my stress level can be measured by my volume when correcting my three kids.  If on Wednesday I’m hemmed in between the church bake sale, T-ball, volunteering in the kids classes, and making dinner…I can get pretty loud!
Most of our activities are good, just like my lip sticks -- I like all of them, they’re good shades on me.  But I don’t need to have all of them all the time.  And who needs 15 pens??  Hand-picking my two favorites is plenty, and will lighten my load.
Likewise, I am going to start this year off carefully considering what the Lord wants me to do. Praying and hand-picking where I put my time and energy, so that I can do the things that God is calling me to do, and make the most of those opportunities He gives me.
But what about that trash?  Oh SO much trash.  There are two kinds of trash in my purse: the junk I put in, and the junk other people put in it.  If your kids are like mine, Mommy’s purse is an always-accessible trashcan.  I’ve caught them putting gum wrappers in it when a bona-fide receptacle is four feet away!  
The trash we carry around in our hearts and lives also can be our own doing: our own sins, our own shortcomings, even sometimes just the small innocent mistakes that we can’t stop kicking ourselves over.  
These sins we carry on our shoulders can be crippling, like for the man in Matthew 9:6, “So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”. 
When we confess and accept that we are forgiven by a Holy and loving Lord, our burden is lightened, and our souls are de-cluttered.  We can walk without limping.
“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’ ” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
Sometimes the trash that weighs us down is from someone else: the hurts, rejections or wounds that we have received from others.  Maybe it was just recently, or maybe it has been hiding in the lining of our hearts for years.  We need to take all these wads of refuse and pour them into the incinerator of Christ.  Only there will they be transformed into ashes, and He alone can make beauty come from the ashes.   
Our hearts find freedom in forgiveness.  It can be hard.  Hurt runs deep.  But let’s take our lead from the One who said in Luke 23:34  “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” as he hung bleeding on a cross and soldiers fought over his clothes. 
In 2017, as in every year, Jesus invites us to a life lived to the fullest (John 10:10). But we can not experience His abundance if our hearts and lives are bogged down by diaper-bag sized piles of unnecessary junk.  Let us strive to live wisely, act thoughtfully, and forgive freely. 
In the coming months I am going to ask this question each time I put something into my much-more-petite purse, or my life: “Is this something that I need, or is it just extra weight?”.  And although I know the trash is still going to sneak its way in there one way or another, I’m going to clean it out regularly -- not letting the refuse fester in dark corners. 
Here’s to a year with lighter hearts, less cluttered schedules and smaller purses!

Laura is married to her high school-sweetheart-turned-pulmonologist and lives in Palm Desert, CA.  She is looking forward to carrying a cute little purse this year instead of her “diaper bag” but has to train her three kids not to use it as a trash can anymore.  

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