moving on.

I just sold my djembe drum to a nice hippy man via craigslist. I want to play it cool here, but I felt rather teary. I remember exactly when I bought that drum–right after YWAM, influenced by all the percussionists I met in India–at the music store in downtown Portland. How I proudly carried it everywhere. How I played at churches, in small groups, with college-aged kids in a large circle on somebody’s lawn. How I loved blending in, how confident I was of the beat. I remember listening to non-mainstream worship ensembles and thinking this stuff is legit. It wasn’t polished, or perfect. It was joyous, it was a howl. The djembe to me sounded like the psalms.

I carted that drum around all my wanderings, but here is the memory I remembered tonight: I was in Portland, years later, at yet another Bible college. I was older, wiser, but still wanted to fit in. I asked the pretty worship leader, a brunette with a sharp tongue, if they ever needed a percussionist. “I play the djembe”, I said, not wanting to sound too braggy. We were in the cafe, and I had approached her. She looked me up and down, said “thanks” and “I’ll think about it”. She smiled at me, but I was already feeling like I had made the wrong move somehow. I sat in the corner to study. She talked loudly to her friends. “Oh, the djembe is so five years ago. I can’t even imagine!” I know she wanted me to hear her say it, and I did. And it was my first real sense that the world moves on ahead of you, finding God in ever more loud ways, when you just want to sit in the grass and play your drum.

I put it in my closet, and have rarely touched it since.


We are currently selling all of our possessions. We are taking what fits in a subaru wagon, and nothing else. We are committing to lives of simplicity (plus, our stuff isn’t worth the price to move it). Our stuff is overwhelming, scrounged from thrift stores, found in alleys, painted and glued and glittered (I do love me some glitter). I sold our backpacks today, remembered the months in Europe, China, Turkey. I don’t know when we will ever travel like that again. I will sell our TV, our glorious 1960s orange hide-a-bed, I will send our cantankerous cat to a friendly farm in the country (and trust me, I will sob my guts out).

I, who pride myself on not buying into all this crap, have bought a lot of crap. And it turns out that maybe we hang onto our stuff as a way to hang onto our past selves. I am having a hard time getting rid of things right now, because I am having a hard time understanding who I am. For a long time, my worth was measured by my musical ability (playing bass in a Christian punk band, folk jam sessions on the guitar, playing drums for the youth group, the djembe at the Megachurch). But that part of me is done, for now, crowded out by other more important things.

I can only take one box of books, and it is messing with me. How much of my identity I so badly want to be tied to my mind, my words. And this makes me realize how fragile all of this really is. How taking a vow of simplicity might mean a renewed vigor to be poor in spirit, not just in possessions.

But be honest, here. If you could only fill up a rusty subaru wagon, what would you take? What would you leave behind?

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16 thoughts on “moving on.

  1. […] I find so much to criticize.  I’m not doing nearly enough and I’m convicted by my friends’ wise words to do so much more than I am right now. There’s so much room for improvement in my messy, […]

  2. Sarah K says:

    What a difficult time right now. You’re right on about how even though we profess to be non-consumers that, culturally, we build our stuff to define our identity. What’s this “identity” anyway? Something our culture has told us to create to show others our sense of self-worth. Your ingenuity has been demonstrated in your thrifted furniture, your flare in all that glitter, but who needs to see those things to know who you really are? Does it show your heart? It will take anyone but God and your family a long, long time to really know who you are…so really the stuff isn’t even a shortcut to knowledge of you. As you’ve experienced, it’s not even a guaranteed way to form bonds and connections in your community.

    Anyway, (if we had a car,) I would take what I absolutely need: my family, the best of our clothes that fit, the tools that enable me to get daily life done, like my computer, cast-iron skillets, a few small kitchen appliances for making food, a few craft supplies like my sewing machine and some fabric and yarn to make clothes…and the rest I can really get anywhere.

    You are creative and good at making-do. These skills are mobile. Have confidence in your ability to grow where you are planted.

    • what a great comment, sarah! very inspiring. I like what you would pack. (ps, can you come to our open house on sunday?) (pps do you want some mod podge and flannel?)

  3. We hang on to our stuff as a way to hang on to our past selves. — so true!

  4. Haley Baker says:

    I would take the 3 of you and my dogs. Rick would be driving and we would be listening to adventures in Odessy.

  5. amber says:

    You are right, it’s hard to get rid of stuff that represents memories, people, events, and even our identity. I would have to think about what I would take with me. Didn’t my stuff used to fit in a car during college days?

  6. D.L., this is an awesome post. We just did the same thing, condensing a three bedroom apartment into 2 rooms. It really does make you judge an object’s worth. The books were the hardest to give up. The things I will always take with me: My vintage Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck paperbacks, my Madeleine L’Engle collection, My collection of Southern literature (Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers), My Inklings books (Lewis, Sayers, Tolkien, Williams, etc), and a small assortment of poetry, (cummings, Sandburg). As far as objects go, my three antique typewriters are always front and center, the exit sign I got from an abandoned psychiatric asylum in Ontario, my two antique fans that don’t work but look really cool. My photos. My computers. My camera collection. My box of rocks. My hamster.
    Oh, and my husband and kid.

    That story about the brunette worship girl made me cringe. I seriously want to kick her in her private particles. I, too, love a good drum circle. I never tire of hand drums. When you come visit me in Chicago, you will have an assortment of drums to play with.

  7. Kate says:

    I moved a lot of times. All of them in a green minivan and with five children in tow. Shrunk life to fit into an apartment in NYC and then expanded to grow into a house in Kansas. I’ve let go of things that were false identity builders, but what I keep are the treasures from the journey. They are my stones of remembrance. Where are you moving in the Midwest? I’m soon to downsize a large home here and would be happy to share with you.

  8. I KNOW every bit of this feeling.I feel silly and small but I can’t help it. Here’s what I wrote last week:

    “The house in New York is furnished, down to kitchen and linens and new roommate-friends, and I will only take essentials on the long drive to The North. Lots of clothes. The very most important books and notebooks. Guitar. This is a blessing; I don’t want to try to haul all my pots and pans, canisters, things for the walls, and it’s time to go through the assorted baubles and things again. Tiny Nerf football? It’s possible I no longer need that.

    But surveying these things, thinking of how little it really makes sense to take along, I push down a small flame of panic in my chest. I spent weeks getting rid of stuff after high school, and everything I own now has a use or a story. I remember which thrift store I was at with whom when I acquired all the kitchen wares. I am down to my ten very favorite stuffed animals. And my books, oh, the books, they are all parts of me and my family got mad every new dorm room, I brought so many along and didn’t always read them but they are comforting like a latte on a cold day. All this stuff – without it I feel unprotected. How can I pare my material life into a few boxes in a backseat?

    It’s not really that I love my things so much, more that I already feel vulnerable and small moving to a new place on my own without friends or activities or a past to orient me. It seems somehow that all my stuff could prop me up a little, cushion the landing by virtue of simple familiarity. But most of it will stay behind in my favorite-colored bedroom.”

    Simone Weil says God enters a space when we clear it out for him. Maybe this is true of physical space, too.

    • oh, i needed that today. i hope that simone weil quote is right! i am always surprised by how moving (and any transition, really, but especially this epic purge) affects me.

  9. darcywiley says:

    Wow. Such thought-provoking reflections here. I have too many sentimental things to even think of how I would whittle it down to a pile that would fit in a Subaru. Your line: “And it turns out that maybe we hang onto our stuff as a way to hang onto our past selves” is something to sit with for a while. And how I resonate with “it was my first real sense that the world moves on ahead of you, finding God in ever more loud ways, when you just want to sit in the grass and play your drum.” Reminds me of one of my favorite Sara Groves songs, “Obsolete”. Compelling writing here. Thanks for sharing. P.S. I found you through my friend, Amber Robinson. 🙂


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