In Bondage

I’m in bondage this morning to two overflowing hampers of dirty laundry.  A shortage of clean undergarments has become a near-crisis. Guests over the weekend disrupted the laundry-doing cycle and contributed three extra sets of sheets and towels to the normal weekly wash. The washing machine will be busy most of this morning. The nice thing about doing laundry is I can do my sermon-writing around it. Breaks to fold and to spray-and-wash stains gives my eyes a break from the computer screen and my brain a break to re-group and think through transitions.

Later today I’m meeting a church member to wash and sort toys in the church nursery. We’re moving the nursery from a great-big room at the end of a long hallway to a smaller, more infant and toddler friendly sized room closer to where most of the Sunday morning action is. Last week when we met we culled the collection of toys and pulled out at least five large garbage bags full of things to donate and another two or three to throw in the trash.

These are the days when I lament. We’re drowning in So.Much.Stuff. The Pixar movie Wall-e haunts me. Poor little Wall-e the trash compactor robot left to roam the earth after humans have fled to cruise-ship like spaceships, trying to compact all the trash piled all over it—I feel his pain especially on days like today.

I know why the church nursery has so many, many toys. People donate their children’s and grand-children’s gently-used toys and over time they just accumulate.

I know why I have all these sets of sheets and towels and extra beds. Mike and I have six adult children between us. We want them to feel free to come home to visit and to bring friends with them when they are able. I have all this laundry to do because we aim to be hospitable–but still, the mounds on my laundry room floor and the bags of toys for the Salvation Army store and the garbage bin remind me of a story from years ago.

I was twenty-six years old and just setting up house in Zaire. The two of us (my ex-husband and I) had been assigned a four bedroom home built by and for Disciple missionary families in the forties or fifties. The house had a lot of windows and I can sew, so an afternoon visit to the merchants in Mbandaka ten miles away provided me with ten dress-lengths of fabric from which to make curtains. The next morning the fabric was piled on a chair in our living room when Bontongu, one of our students at the Pastor’s Training Institute, came to help us out around the house. His eyes widened when he saw the stack of fabric. I told him I was going to make curtains from it and he nodded, still wide-eyed. He said, “My wife has one dress length of fabric from which she made her dress. It is the only one she has since she was full-grown.”

Later that same week Bontongu saw a couple broken drinking glasses in our kitchen trash. He asked if he could have them. “They’re broken.” I said. He nodded. “They’re sharp. You’ll be cut on them.” I said. He said, “I will use a stone to rub the sharp edges until they are smooth and we will be the only family in the school with our own drinking glasses.”

When I get to feeling that I’m in bondage to too much stuff I think of Bontongu who had next to nothing in material possessions and I remind myself that mine is a bondage of my own choosing. Nobody has ever forced me to buy anything. If I want to do something about having too much stuff, the good news is, I can.

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